When Elvis Said 'Aloha' From Hawaii, The World Watched

Jan 6, 2013
Originally published on January 6, 2013 6:06 pm
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If you've just tuned in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.


DANA SUZUKI-CULBERTSON: I'm Dana Suzuki-Culbertson(ph), and I live in Kaneohe, Oahu (unintelligible).


SUZUKI-CULBERTSON: The night I went to see Elvis, I went with my mother. And I remember sitting up, and the moment I saw him with my binoculars, I was in such awe that I stopped and I was just staring at my mom, saying: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. And she told me: Stop looking at me and look at stage and watch.


LYDEN: Forty years ago this month, on January 14, 1973, Elvis Presley, perfectly tanned in his high-collared American Eagle jumpsuit, walked onstage at the Honolulu International Center to make history - the first solo entertainer to broadcast live via satellite.


LYDEN: More than 40 countries from Asia to Europe, 1 billion and a half viewers, watched the King in the historic concert called "Aloha from Hawaii." For fans in the audience like Dana Culbertson, the memory still shines.

SUZUKI-CULBERTSON: When he first came out on stage, you know, they start off with these drums: boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And then da-da-da, da-da-da, and then out he comes, you know, "See See Rider."


ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) Oh, see. See see rider. Oh, see what you have done. I said see, see see rider. Oh, see what you have done. Girl, you made me love you. Now, now, now your lovin' man has gone. Hear what I say.

LYDEN: Also in the audience was a graduate student named Neil Abercrombie. He was (unintelligible).

GOVERNOR NEIL ABERCROMBIE: It was 12:30 a.m. when it started. The place was packed, about 6,000-plus people in our little arena here. And he was in his, you know, his white cape, and he had his semi-karate moves. And he sang at least 20, 25 songs in an hour.


PRESLEY: Thank you. Thank you very much. "Johnny B."


ABERCROMBIE: When he did "Hound Dog," you know, "Big Mama" Willie Mae Thornton's "Hound Dog"...


PRESLEY: (Singing) You ain't nothing but a hound dog, crying all the time. Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit and you ain't no friend of mine.

ABERCROMBIE: He did "Fever."

LYDEN: Dana Culbertson was just 17 at the time.

SUZUKI-CULBERTSON: You know, I was in my own world, swooning and wanting all that too. I just loved him.


PRESLEY: (Singing) Never know how much I love you. Never know how much I care. Oh, when you put your arms around me I get a fever that's so hard to bear. You give me fever.

LYDEN: Yes, Elvis charmed the girls, girls, girls, and the boys too. Neil Abercrombie became an Elvis fan after listening to R&B in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. So, of course, he was happy to see the king's genius on stage.

ABERCROMBIE: He did rhythm and blues stuff. And, of course, he did "I'll Remember You," Kui Lee.

LYDEN: Can you sing any of it?

ABERCROMBIE: (Singing) I'll remember you, da-da-da-da.

GOVERNOR: You all - yeah, that's it. The second he started it, people burst into tears.


PRESLEY: (Singing) I'll remember you long after this endless summer has gone. I'll be lonely, oh, so lonely, living only to remember you.

LYDEN: The reason behind the Hawaii concert was to commemorate the late Hawaiian composer Kui Lee who'd written the song "I'll Remember You," made famous by entertainer Don Ho. Presley recorded the song in June of 1966, the year Lee died.


PRESLEY: (Singing) As the warm summer breeze your sweet laughter, mornings after, ever after, I'll remember you. To your arms someday...

LYDEN: Elvis Presley loved Hawaii, and he was happy there. He made three movies in the state with titles like "Blue Hawaii." He held a benefit show for the USS Arizona Memorial, the shop destroyed in the Pearl Harbor.


LYDEN: As huge as the 1973 television event was, one irony is that in the United States, you couldn't see. John Jackson is vice president of Sony's Legacy Recordings.

JOHN JACKSON: It was the same day as the Super Bowl, you know, Super Bowl VII, Dolphins versus Redskins. Yeah, that was the season that the Dolphins went undefeated, which was a huge deal.


PRESLEY: (Singing) What you're doing to me when you don't believe a word I say. We can't go on together with suspicious minds. And we can't build our dreams on suspicious minds. So if an old friend I know...

LYDEN: So I've seen your picture, John Jackson, and are you as old as Elvis was when he performed this concert?

JACKSON: That's funny you mentioned that. I actually am 38 years old right now. I haven't thought of that before (unintelligible). And thank you for reminding me, by the way.

LYDEN: And happy birthday, by the way.


LYDEN: But how do we explain your fascination for a performer you weren't even born when this concert took place? And you've become a, you know, an expert on Elvis.

JACKSON: I was fortunate enough to have attended Indiana University. I actually, for my thesis project, made a CD-ROM about Elvis' life where you could see clips and see photos and read about him and the argument being that Elvis really ushered in the age of the multimedia human being. And you couldn't just hear his music without seeing his photograph, or you couldn't see the photograph without seeing the motion of him on television, or you had to take in everything or he didn't make sense. And then after that, everything changed. And, you know, the world is now a multimedia place.


PRESLEY: (Singing) ...and did it my way. The record shows I took the blows and did it my way.

JACKSON: Oh, I mean, the whole was just fantastic. I mean, you can tell when listening to the January 12th show, the sort of dress rehearsal show, he's a little bit loser, he's joking around with the band and stuff, which was what he was out to do. But the 14 show, he just absolutely kills it. And, you know, particularly the famous performances of "An American Trilogy," which was a favorite song of his that he did. And it's just one of the great performances of his entire career.


PRESLEY: (Singing) Glory, glory hallelujah.

LYDEN: As we know, the King still lives amongst diehard Elvis fans, but those fans haven't done so badly either. Neil Abercrombie is now Hawaii's governor, and he still loves Elvis.

ABERCROMBIE: He was a phenomenon. And we're talking about it 40 years later. You're not going to have the Justin Bieber world satellite concert 40 years from now, you know, or Beyonce or something like that. These are passing phenomenon. Presley was singular in that way. The word charisma was made for him.


PRESLEY: (Singing) Take my hand. Take my whole life too. For I can't help falling in love with you.

LYDEN: Fortieth anniversary celebrations of the concert are planned from Memphis to Honolulu with a rebroadcast of the 1973 show. If you're lucky enough to get there, you'll be joining Governor Abercrombie at the arena where it all took place on January 14th. You, too, can say what Elvis might say if he were there - "Aloha from Hawaii."


(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.