Elvis Presley fans are spending the week marking the 35th anniversary of the death of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, and Jim Barone thinks he knows why they remain so devoted.
Barone, a 39-year-old from Mullica Hill, N.J., has been performing as Elvis Presley for 21 years. He’s in Memphis, Tenn., this week for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest and will entertain the crowd later this month at a charity concert at Cannstatter’s.
“It’s very rare that an entertainer comes along who looks good, sounds good and has a tremendous stage presence,” he said of Elvis. “He had the entire package.”
Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Miss., and moved to Memphis when he was 13. He had his first hit song in 1956 with Heartbreak Hotel and had numerous hits through the 1960s and into the ’70s. His musical career was temporarily interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Army, and he later enjoyed a successful movie career.
In later years, Elvis put on a lot of weight and became dependent on prescription drugs. Still, he continued to entertain.
In 1977, he performed extensively, including a May 28 date at the Spectrum in South Philadelphia. His tour ended in Indianapolis on June 26, and he had plans to go back on the road. But he died suddenly on Aug. 16 of a heart attack at his Graceland mansion at age 42.
Since 1982, when Graceland became open to the public, it’s become a popular destination for Elvis aficionados. More than 600,000 people per year visit the museum, making it the second-most-visited private residence in the United States, behind the White House. Elvis and his parents and grandmother are buried on the estate.
For those unable to make the trip to Memphis, another way of reliving the memories of Elvis is to attend a concert by a tribute artist. The acts began while Elvis was alive, but really became popular upon his death.
Barone, who was 4 when Elvis died, started in 1991 and is proud his voice is very similar to the King’s. His favorite Elvis song is Are You Lonesome Tonight?
He’s developed a special bond with the people who come to his concerts.
“They’re friends to me more than fans,” he said last week from Memphis. “They love Elvis so much. I try to recreate something they enjoy.”
Barone, who started his 12-day trip to Tennessee with a few gigs in Nashville, will compete later this week in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, which is held in partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.
EPE manages Graceland and all things Elvis. This week’s highlights include an Elvis concert, via video, at Memphis’ FedEx Forum on the anniversary of his death. His ex-wife, Priscilla, and daughter, Lisa Marie, will be in attendance.
Barone qualified for the ultimate contest by winning a competition in Atlantic City and has since won another preliminary contest in North Carolina. He’ll be among 28 semifinalists, with the winner getting a prize package that includes $20,000.
Win or lose, Barone will be at Cannstatter’s on Aug. 31 as part of Digi Foundation’s beef and beer/concert to raise money for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He’ll entertain with an Aloha from Hawaii set.
Promoter Charlie Luecke, president of the non-profit Digi Foundation, said guests are in for a real treat.
“Audiences are really into Jim Barone. Audiences love him,” he said. “He’s one of the best ones out there. I think he’s in the top ten. I think he stands a good chance of winning the contest.”
Luecke, whose Digi Entertainment has a long-term agreement with Elvis Presley Enterprises, believes the Elvis phenomenon will go on forever. He cited surveys showing that Elvis has 55 million fans in the United States and more than 350 million followers worldwide.
“He has more fans than we have people in the United States,” he said. “Elvis is the second-most recognizable person ever to set foot on Earth. He’s right after Jesus.”
Luecke already has lined up a local Elvis tribute artist contest for next year. Cannstatter’s will host from April 12 to 14.
First, though, is the upcoming Children’s Hospital benefit. Luecke and Barone both have had positive experiences at CHOP.
Thomas Charles Majkowski, Luecke’s now 4-year-old grandson, was treated at the hospital for heart issues. Barone’s now 6-year-old son, Vincent, had a stroke before he was born, but is living a completely healthy life, thanks in part to the medical staff at CHOP.
Barone, a member of the Digi Foundation board of directors, will be part of a lineup that includes oldies, Irish music, comedic impressions and more.
“There’s five hours of non-stop music. There’s something for everybody. CHOP is getting a hundred percent of all the money. How can you beat that?” Luecke said. ••
Get all shook up …
A beef and beer/concert will be held Friday, Aug. 31, from 6 to 11 p.m., at Cannstatter’s, at 9130 Academy Road.
The lineup will include Jim Barone (Elvis Presley tribute), Suzette Dorsey (Tina Turner tribute), The Impersonators, Mike Jones, Ed Marra (Buddy Holly and Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon tributes), Greg Martiello, Tom McHugh, The Tributes and the Philadelphia Police & Fire Pipes & Drums.
Tickets cost $35, or $20 for anyone age 13 to 20. Children age 12 and younger are admitted free with an adult.
Call 215-983-5200 or visit digifoundation.orgEndFragment EndFragment