JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Theatre, which has been anchored in downtown Jacksonville for nearly a century, is behind one of Elvis Presley’s most iconic looks, but the man who would go on to be “The King” of Rock ‘N’ Roll almost never got the chance to play at the Florida Theatre.
Elvis headlined six shows at the iconic Jacksonville venue on Aug. 10 and 11, 1956, performing three concerts each day.
But there was a big threat before Elvis could even sing his first note.
Florida Theatre president Numa Saisselin said the performance was before Elvis was “The King” and it came with immense pressure.
“It’s famous because Marion Gooding, who was at that time the juvenile court justice in Jacksonville, summoned young Mr. Presley to his offices and told him there would be no hip-swiveling and no suggestive body movements,” Saisselin said.
Those are some of the moves that Elvis was known for, even early in his career, that got fans riled up.
There were reports of fans rushing toward Elvis during a concert in Jacksonville in 1955. They tried to rip off pieces of his clothes.
Judge Gooding did not want a repeat of that.
He even threatened to arrest Elvis if he did the moves and charge him with “impairing the morality of minors.”
Gooding and a member of a group that petitioned to censor the performance were in attendance for the first show to make sure Elvis did not cross the line.
“By all accounts, he stood center stage right on this stage and performed his show straight. No moving around,” Saisselin said. “But Scotty Moore, one of his band members, says that was the night that he started to sneer because he was so angry that he could not move, that he developed that lip curl that we came to know with Elvis.”
Elvis sang hits like “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel,” which were released earlier that year.
“Heartbreak Hotel” was written by local teacher Mae Axton and Jacksonville-based singer/songwriter Tommy Durden.
“‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Hound Dog’ were out but he had not been on the Ed Sullivan Show,” Saisselin said. “So, he was famous and well on his way to becoming Elvis in capital letters, but he was still a little bit of a country boy from Mississippi.”
Elvis’ performance wasn’t the only iconic act to come through Jacksonville during the city’s 200-year history.
The Beatles performed downtown nearly a decade later at what was then the Gator Bowl. It was the first integrated audience in the venue’s history.
That stadium has since been demolished and replaced by what is now TIAA Bank Field.