Where is the Heart of the Elvis Presley Tribute World?

How Tupelo rose to prominence in this community

Members of the Elvis Tribute Artists - E
Members of the Elvis Tribute Artists - Elvisly Yours perform in central London, 16 August 2007, as fans worldwide mark the 30th anniversary of his death.
SHAUN CURRY/AFP via Getty Images

Few American musicians have had as much of a cultural impact as Elvis Presley. By 2018, over 146 million of his albums had sold — an absolutely staggering number, and one that speaks to his endurance as an artist. Presley’s style and distinctive image have also endured over the years, both in archival performances and via the numerous tribute acts that bring his music to audiences today.

In recent years, one small city has begun to stand out as a center for those looking to hone their tributes to Presley. That’s Tupelo, Mississippi — and in a new article at Atlas Obscura, Laura Kiniry explores just how that came to be. There’s a clear biographical connection there: Presley lived in Tupelo until he was 13. But the city has also become the focal point for more than that, as Kiniry explains:

Today, the city is home to the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition: one of more than a dozen tribute artist contests taking place around the globe. These competitions act as pre-qualifiers for August’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest at Graceland. Run by Elvis Presley Enterprises every year since 2007, it’s the cream of the crop for Elvis tribute artists (ETAs).

Winners of the competition, traditionally held in June, are enrolled in Elvis Boot Camp before advancing to the next round. This is now a simulation of Presley’s time in the Army, but it instead a way for winners to hone their craft even further. And given that Tupelo played a role in shaping the young Elvis, it’s also a way for tribute artists to gain a little more of their icon’s history — and transmit it to a wider audience.

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