You can’t have a museum that’s all about music without giving a nod to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
That’s the conclusion the Musical Instrument Museum came to after patrons visiting its Artist Gallery, a space reserved for the instruments of music’s biggest icons, kept asking, “Where’s Elvis?”
Elvis Presley is now given his due at the acclaimed 1-year-old Phoenix museum. An exhibit featuring his guitars, clothing, jewelry and other personal artifacts opens this weekend inside the newly renovated gallery.
“It’s a permanent exhibition, so we will always have Elvis in the building,” says April Salomon, the museum’s head of exhibits.
The items are on loan directly from Graceland, Elvis’ estate in Memphis, Tenn. The small collection gives an overview of Presley’s 30-year career.
“The early period, in the 1950s, was all about his service in the U.S. Army and the beginning of his super-stardom,” says Salomon.
A fatigue shirt with arm patches denoting Elvis’ rank and division, and a set of bongo drums given to Elvis as a holiday gift from the girl who was to become his wife, Priscilla Wagner, help tell that story.
The 1960s section, when Elvis made the bulk of his 33 films, features the King’s personal copy of a movie poster for 1966’s “Spinout.” In it, he’s playing an EDS-1275 double-neck electric guitar. The same instrument, which Elvis took home from the movie set, is displayed in the next case.
Also on view are a custom-made gold necklace bearing Elvis’ personal motto and the name of his band, “Taking Care of Business,” and two 1970s-era wool and gabardine jumpsuits, “The King of Spades” and “The Red Ladder.”
A 1975 Martin D-28 acoustic guitar in the show was the last Elvis played. It was discovered in an upstairs closet at Graceland, with a cracked neck and other damage. The MIM’s conservation team restored the instrument. Salomon says the museum will likely get the opportunity to restore more Graceland artifacts, thanks to a partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises, the company that runs Graceland.
That relationship will also allow the museum to keep the Elvis section fresh, swapping out items from time to time.
Kevin Kern, with Elvis Presley Enterprises, says it’s rare for Graceland to loan authentic Elvis items to other institutions. The company works with only a handful of museums around the world.
The MIM, he says, is the only place in the western United States to see Presley’s personal artifacts.
The Elvis exhibit is part of an expansion of the museum’s Artist Gallery, where instruments and artifacts from John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and other musical icons are displayed. Renovations will continue throughout the fall, with items from Roy Orbison, Buck Owens and Toby Keith being added over time.
Entry to the Artist Gallery is included with regular admission to the Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix. For hours, admission fees and information, call (480) 478-6000 or visit www.themim.org
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