Elvis Presley's Strangest Concert

Based on the pandemonium Elvis Presley had generated the last two times he played Jacksonville, Florida, Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, booked him for six shows over two days in August of 1956. All six shows would be at the Florida Theater, a medium-sized venue that held about 2,200 people.

The 21-year-old Elvis was quickly becoming a national celebrity based on the riots he had stirred up in places like Jacksonville. A few months earlier, after his Jacksonville performances, which included his trademark bumps, grinds, and hip motions, "Elvis the Pelvis" had incited the female members of the crowd to nearly tear him apart like jackals on a rabbit. They literally tore the clothes off his back. Besides his gyrations, Elvis would also lie face down on stage, stretching full out on the microphone, writhing and saying things every girl in the crowd wanted to hear. And while the girls were whipped into a frenzy by Elvis's controversial singing and moves, their boyfriends were furious with jealousy, and many wanted to tear the young singer apart themselves.

Although the teenage girls were enthralled, the adults of Jacksonville were both worried and terrified. And so it was that before his August concerts of 1956, Elvis Presley was ordered to meet with local judge Marion W. Gooding. Meeting Elvis with Judge Gooding were the Optimists Club and the National Congress of the P.T.A. All were up in arms, "frozen stiff with outrage and bewilderment" at Elvis's "bizarrely spasmodic and purely sexual" moves. They saw Elvis as arrogant, sneering, dangerous, and defiant -- the very embodiment of the 1950's juvenile delinquent -- and insisted the judge warn him to tone down his libidinous intensity.

"They had me convinced that no teenage girl was safe around Elvis Presley..."

"They had me convinced that no teenage girl was safe around Elvis Presley," Judge Gooding recalled years later. "They wanted to have him watched at the theater and they wanted his hotel room watched. They had him pictured as a real villain."

In his chambers, the judge warned Elvis and his manager that he would be present at the first show and that he had prepared warrants charging him with "impairing the morality of minors." As if for proof, deputies would be stationed in wings of the Florida Theater.

After the meeting, Elvis told reporters, "I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I know my mother approves of what I'm doing."

Judge Gooding called Elvis a sweet, gentle kid, "with the sort of good manners that we associate with southern politeness." Still, the judge attended the first show at 3:30 p.m.

On stage, Elvis opened with his current hit, "Heartbreak Hotel," and threw his hips out once. "I'm going to put him in jail, sure as anything," Gooding whispered to the lawyer in the theater. But then Elvis caught himself and decided to have some fun.

"Wait a minute. I can't do this..."

"Wait a minute. I can't do this. They won't let me do this here," Elvis told the audience. To everyone's amazement, instead of shaking, wiggling, and jumping around, Elvis stood perfectly still. Then he wiggled his little finger suggestively in place of his usual movements. This thrilled the crowd, who found "the finger" both hilarious and deeply erotic. Elvis continued the finger twitching movements throughout the remainder of the concert.

"The kids went nuts anytime he did anything," said June Juanico, Elvis's girlfriend at the time. "He could just make a funny face, and they would scream. These teenagers would just go crazy."

So Judge Gooding's wife, the Goodings' three daughters, and their girlfriends all watched as Elvis wiggled his finger suggestively throughout the unique concert. Even they roared when Elvis dedicated "Hound Dog" to the judge.

"Everybody in the audience got the biggest charge out of that," said Marilyn, one of the judge's daughters.

After the concert, Elvis happily told June (who hadn't been able to attend that day) all about it: "Baby, you should have been there. Every time D.J. [Elvis's drummer] did his thing on the drums, I wiggled my finger, and the girls went wild. I never heard screams like that in my life. I showed them sons of bitches--call me vulgar. Baby, you don't think I'm vulgar, do you?" Then, to lighten the mood, Elvis put a pair of June's panties on his head and strode around the room.

Elvis performed all six concerts in the Florida Theater on August 10th and 11th with no pelvis thrusts or gyrations, just the "sexy" wiggling of his pinky finger.

Elvis's mother, Gladys, hearing later about Judge Gooding, told her beloved son to never, ever go back to Jacksonville. There was nothing for him there except trouble.

But he had made some new fans. The judge's grandson, Tony, would grow up to idolize Elvis and plaster Presley posters over his walls. And the last Christmas Judge Gooding was alive, for a Christmas present, he gave his wife an album of Elvis Presley singing religious songs. There seem to have been no hard feelings by the judge or anyone after Elvis's "censored" performances in Jacksonville.

But what about Elvis himself? Did Elvis leave the Florida Theater with any kind of upset or angry feelings?

Well, after Elvis's sixth show and final performance in Jacksonville on August 11th, Elvis had a little message for the good judge and his cronies in attendance, according to Juanico.

"F**k you very much..."

"You know how Elvis always said, 'Thank you very much'? I heard it clear as day. He said, 'F**k you very much. F**k you very much.' Everybody was screaming, but all the members of his entourage heard it. He did it twice and he looked over at me and grinned." But June couldn't quite believe what she had heard. She couldn't believe Elvis had said those words right on stage, in front of everybody.

After the concert, once they were alone together, June asked Elvis if she'd heard him correctly.

"You heard correctly," he replied.


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.

Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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Why Do Orchestras Tune to an A Note?
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When orchestra members tune their instruments before a performance, it almost always sounds the same. That’s because across the world, most orchestras tune to the same A note, using a standard pitch of 440 hertz.

This is the result of international standards that have been in place since the 19th century, according to WQXR, a classical music radio station in New York City. Currently, standard tuning frequency is set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international group that makes recommendations on everything from what safety labels should look like to how big the hole in a pen cap should be. A standard called ISO 16, first recommended in 1955 and confirmed in 1975, “specifies the frequency for the note A in the treble stave and shall be 440 hertz.”

The ISO didn’t pull that frequency out of thin air. During the Industrial Revolution, a rush toward standardization and universality led to multiple international meetings that aimed to bring orchestras all over the world to the same pitch. Standardizing pitch had important ramifications for the international music scene.

Historically, the pitch that orchestras tuned to could differ wildly depending on where the musicians were playing. “In the course of the last 400 years in Europe, the point that has been considered ideal for a reference pitch has fluctuated by some 5 or 6 semitones,” musicologist Bruce Haynes explained in his book, A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of ‘A.’ In the 17th century, a French performer might tune his or her instrument a whole tone lower than their German colleagues. The standards could even change from one town to the next, affecting how music written in one location might sound when played in another.

As a writer for London's The Spectator observed in 1859, “It is well known that when we are performing Handel's music (for example) from the very notes in which he wrote it, we are really performing it nearly a whole tone higher than he intended;—the sound associated in his ear with the note A, being nearly the same sound which, in our ear, is associated with the note G.”

In the 19th century, a commission established by the French government tried to analyze pitch across Europe by looking at the frequencies of the tuning forks musicians used as their reference while tuning their instruments. The commission gathered tuning forks from different cities, finding that most were pitched somewhere around 445 hertz. Over the years, due to bigger concert halls and more advanced instruments, pitch was rising across most orchestras, and instruments and voices were being strained as a result. So the commission recommended lowering the standard to what was known as “the compromise pitch.”

In 1859, the French commission legally established diapason normal, the standard pitch for the A above middle C, at 435 hertz. (The music world would still be debating whether or not pitch had risen too much more than a century later.) Later, 435 hertz became enshrined as a standard elsewhere, too. In 1885, government representatives from Italy, Austria, Hungary, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Württemberg met to establish their own international standard, agreeing on 435 hertz. The agreement was eventually written into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

But not everyone was on board with 435 hertz. The Royal Philharmonic Society in London believed the French pitch standard was pegged to a specific temperature—59°F—and decided to adjust their pitch upward to compensate for their concert halls being warmer than that, settling on 439 hertz. Meanwhile, in 1917, the American Federation of Musicians declared 440 hertz to be the standard pitch in the U.S.

In 1939, the International Standardizing Organization met in London to agree on a standard for concert pitch to be used across the world. A Dutch study of European pitch that year had found that while pitch varied across orchestras and countries, the average of those varied pitches was around 440 hertz. So it made sense for the ISO to choose A 440. Furthermore, radio broadcasters and technicians like the BBC preferred A 440 to the English A 439 because 439 was a prime number and thus harder to reproduce in a laboratory.

World War II delayed the official launch of the 1939 ISO agreement, but the organization issued its A 440 decision in 1955, then again two decades later. A 440 was here to stay. That said, even now, pitch does vary a little depending on the musicians in question. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra notably tunes to 443 hertz rather than the standard 440 hertz, for instance. While A 440 may be the official “concert pitch” across the world, in practice, there is still a little wiggle room.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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10 Facts About Louis Armstrong
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With his infectious smile and raspy voice, Louis Armstrong (who actually pronounced his own name "Lewis") won over fans worldwide. To untold millions, every note that he let loose made the world feel a bit more wonderful, and his music is still being discovered by new generations of fans. Here are 10 facts about the life of one of the 20th century's most important jazz musicians.

1. ARMSTRONG SPENT HIS ADULT LIFE CELEBRATING THE WRONG BIRTHDAY.

Armstrong used to say that he’d been born on July 4, 1900. Turns out, he was 13 months off. In 1988, music historian Thaddeus “Tad” Jones located a baptismal record at New Orleans’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. According to this document, the performer’s actual birth date was August 4, 1901.

No one’s quite sure why Armstrong lied about his age, but the most popular theories maintain he wanted to join a military band or that he figured he'd have a better shot at landing gigs if he was over 18 years old.

2. AS AN ADULT, HE WORE A STAR OF DAVID PENDANT TO HONOR THE JEWISH FAMILY WHO HAD EMPLOYED HIM.

While growing up, Armstrong did assorted jobs for the Karnofskys, a family of Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants. “They were always kind to me,” Armstrong once reflected, “[I] was just a little kid who could use a little word of kindness.” Apart from monetary compensation, Armstrong was given a hot meal every evening and regular invitations to Karnofsky Shabbat dinners. One day, they even advanced him the $5 he used to buy his very first horn.

3. SOMETIMES, ARMSTRONG WOULD USED A FOOD-BASED SIGN-OFF.

Pops” had a special place in his heart for both Chinese and Italian food. But, as a Bayou State native, Armstrong’s favorite dish was always rice and beans. In fact, before marrying his fourth wife, he made sure that she could cook a satisfactory plateful. To grasp how much the man adored this entrée, one need only check out his letters, which were often signed “Red Beans and Ricely Yours.”

4. DURING A FAMOUS RECORDING, HE ALLEGEDLY DROPPED HIS SHEET MUSIC AND IMPROVISED.

At one point in “Heebie Jeebies”—a 1926 song released by Armstrong and his "Hot Five” band—the singer vocalizes a series of nonsensical, horn-like sounds. Music historians recognize this as the first popular, mass-market scat ever recorded. Ironically, Armstrong later wrote the whole thing off as a big blunder on his part. In a 1951 interview with Esquire, Armstrong claimed to have come prepared with printed lyrics that day. Midway through the recording session, he accidentally dropped them and scatted to fill the ensuing silence. “Sure enough,” he explained, “they … [published] ‘Heebie Jeebies’ the same way it was mistakenly recorded.” However, most biographers believe that Armstrong made up this anecdote and had planned on scatting all along. It's also worth noting that even though he brought it into popularity, Armstrong in no way invented the technique, which dates back to at least 1906.

5. HE USED TO GIVE AWAY LAXATIVES AS GIFTS.

Between 1952 and 1955, Armstrong shed 100 pounds. Losing weight proved difficult at first, but his luck changed once he learned of an herbal laxative called “Swiss Kriss.” The artist promptly went out, bought a box, and became a lifelong spokesman. After trying it, he said that defecation sounded like “Applause.” Enamored, the musician began handing out packets to admirers, loved ones, and band members. Though he was the product's biggest cheerleader, Armstrong neither requested nor received any payment from its manufacturers.

6. SEGREGATION LAWS DROVE HIM TO BOYCOTT HIS OWN HOME STATE.

The year 1956 saw Louisiana prohibit integrated bands. Outraged, Armstrong refused to stage another concert within the state's borders. “They treat me better all over the world than they do in my hometown,” he said. “Ain’t that stupid? Jazz was born there and I remember when it was no crime for cats of any color to get together and blow.” Nine years later—after this ban had finally lifted—he again took the stage in New Orleans on October 31, 1965.

7. WHILE PLAYING BEFORE THE ROYAL FAMILY, ARMSTRONG GAVE KING GEORGE V A NEW NICKNAME.

At His Majesty’s command, several of the biggest names in jazz took their talents to Buckingham Palace, and in 1932, Armstrong was requested for a royal performance. Evidently, the show went well. According to Armstrong, that night’s “biggest laugh” came right before his group started playing “You Rascal, You.” Without warning, he looked straight up at the monarch and hollered, “This one’s for you, Rex!”

8. HE WENT ON SEVERAL GOODWILL TOURS DURING THE COLD WAR.

Fresh off the wild success of his “Hello, Dolly!” cover, Armstrong made a trip to communist East Berlin in 1965, where he gave a two-hour concert that earned a standing ovation. While not officially government-sponsored, there are some who believe the concert was arranged by the CIA, which would make this just one of the many taxpayer-funded appearances he’d make abroad during the Cold War in an effort to strengthen diplomatic relations overseas. Previously, Armstrong had performed throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa—though he famously canceled a planned 1957 Soviet Union tour, citing the recent Little Rock crisis. “The way they are treating my people in the South,” declared Armstrong, “the government can go to hell.”

9. “WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD" WAS ORIGINALLY PITCHED TO TONY BENNETT.

The song for which Pops is most widely remembered, “What a Wonderful World,” was almost never his song at all. After completing the optimistic anthem, songwriters Bob Thiele and George David Weiss thought that Tony Bennett would eat it right up. He subsequently passed, so the duo contacted Armstrong in August 1967.

10. "WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD" DIDN'T MAKE A SPLASH IN THE U.S. UNTIL WELL AFTER ARMSTRONG'S DEATH.

The first recording of “What a Wonderful World” was produced by ABC Records, which made no attempt to advertise it domestically. Although the ballad topped the 1968 charts in Great Britain, American sales were abysmal. When Pops (who adored Thiele and Weiss’ masterwork) passed away on July 6, 1971, “What a Wonderful World” seemed destined for stateside obscurity.

Then along came a bare-knuckled comedy called Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). The joyous tune perfectly and ironically clashed with the wartime horrors depicted in one montage, so director Barry Levinson added it to his film’s soundtrack. “What a Wonderful World” struck a chord with moviegoers and was re-released that year, becoming an oft-requested radio hit.

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