When Elvis Presley stepped onto the stage at the Carolina Theatre in February 1956, he was only 21 years old and just emerging as a national phenomenon, propelled by extensive touring, appearances on national television and the recent release by RCA Records of the hit song, “Heartbreak Hotel.”
American audiences were still figuring out how to classify Presley’s singular music style, which blended elements of country ballads and rhythm and blues into a new concoction that would eventually become known as rockabilly. Even Presley himself was hard-pressed to define his technique: “I don’t know what style I have,” he stated to a reporter backstage at the Carolina. “I never have known how to answer that question.”
While many adults in Charlotte had yet to hear of the brash young singer, who was becoming known for his onstage gyrations as well his unique musical style, local teenagers withstood long lines that stretched for blocks for the chance to see Presley “shake, rattle, and roll,” with more than 5,000 attending the four sold-out shows and an additional 1,000 disappointed fans being turned away. Young girls were especially ardent in their enthusiasm for Presley, jumping up and down in their seats and attempting to push their way backstage after the show for a chance to meet the young performer.