August 31, 1957: Canadas’ last date with the King
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
“With my heart pounding with excitement I left Elvis and walked toward the stage at the north end of Empire Stadium” –Red Robinson
August 31 marked 64 years since the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, wiggled and jiggled his hips for 22 minutes at Empire Stadium in Vancouver.
It was the last time Elvis Presley appeared in Canada. He would later tour numerous times in the 1970s, with Seattle being the closest city for Vancouver fans to see him. When the King arrived in Vancouver, he was already a phenomenon; Presley had eight No. 1 hits; and had filmed his third motion picture, Jailhouse Rock (released in November 1957). Elvis’ television appearances on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show made him a household name, and a national sensation. Later appearances on The Milton Berle Show, The Steve Allen Show and The Ed Sullivan Show—would cement the King’s reputation as rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest star.
Prior to his Vancouver concert, Elvis performed in Spokane on August 30—at Memorial Stadium. Spokane Daily Chronicle reporter, Jim Spoerhase, wrote in his review that he could not hear Presley sing: “Those who went out to hear the popular rock ‘n’ roller didn’t stand a chance; you simply couldn’t hear, the screaming was so loud.” Spoerhase also described the behaviour and actions of some teenage girls that went beyond comprehension: “To say the teenagers loved Presley would be putting it far too mildly. They even loved the dirt he kneeled on—evidenced by the fact about 50 young girls swarmed onto the dirt track of the stadium to scratch up handfuls of dirt where Elvis had kneeled during his final number.”
Today, Elvis’ movements would be considered very tame, however, in 1957, Elvis’ sex appeal and stage performances made him controversial. His hip shaking was considered indecent and immoral to the uptight, conservative older generation who labeled the King as a bad influence on young people. Notably, Elvis’ hips were so threatening to the American public that he was filmed from the waist up during his last appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on January 6, 1957.
Elvis vehemently denied being vulgar and suggestive when he was performing for audiences. During his appearance in Ottawa on April 3, 1957, Elvis was asked by CBC reporter, Mac Lipson, whether he was being obscene in his stage act; Elvis appeared to be irritated with the question as he responded defiantly, “You have to put on a show for people. You can’t stand there like a statue!”
Before Elvis began his show at Empire Stadium, he held a press conference inside the dressing room. The King was asked his impressions of the Pacific Northwest to which he replied: “Oh, it’s terrific. It’s really, really beautiful country up here.” The King later showed his wonderful sense of humour. When asked what his opinion was about his audience, he quipped: “I mean, it would look pretty funny out there without one!”
Legendary Vancouver DJ, Red Robinson, was the emcee of the Elvis concert in Vancouver and met the King at the Hotel Georgia (now called Rosewood Hotel Georgia). Robinson later spent time with Elvis backstage at Empire Stadium. When Robinson later introduced Elvis, it was an unforgettable and surreal moment. “With my heart pounding with excitement I left Elvis and walked toward the stage at the north end of Empire Stadium,” Robinson wrote in a Facebook post on August 30. “I can’t describe the feeling of looking out at a sea of 25,000 faces. I had to gather up every ounce of courage. My introduction was brief: I walked out to thundering applause and said, ‘On behalf of the Teen Canteen, Canada’s largest teen show, I’m proud tonight to present to you, ELVIS PRESLEY!’ The crowd went berserk.”
The King sang for only 22 minutes as he cut his show due to the crowd moving closer to the stage. Some of the songs Elvis sang (perhaps hastily) included “Heartbreak Hotel,” “I Got a Woman,” “I Was the One,” “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” and “Hound Dog.” The King later got into a Cadillac and was driven to the Hotel Georgia, staying overnight—and leaving early in the morning.
In August 2007, The Province commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Elvis concert in Vancouver. The newspaper published a plethora of letters from readers who had attended the show. Marion Guild wrote, “It was pandemonium. All around me were other kids and cops. Suddenly, I saw my shoe underneath the foot of a cop. I tried to get his attention, to no avail. The next thing I knew, I was biting the cop’s arm. He moved, I got my shoe and ended up right in front of the stage, where I was mesmerized by the beautiful sight of Elvis.” Nikki Howard had similar recollections: “I met up with my friend Diane at Empire Stadium after she talked her folks into delivering her and her sister Pat there. [It was] the most exciting day of our teenage girl lives. Most of all I remember taking a swipe at Elvis and actually touching his foot. We were so high on adrenaline that we walked all the way home to Kitsilano.”
Elvis’ next stops on his tour were in Tacoma, Seattle, and Portland. Cassandra Tate was 12 years old when she attended the Elvis concert at Sick’s Stadium in Seattle. Tate went to the big show with her friend, Frances Bragg. Tate later became a prominent journalist, author, and historian. She passed away from cancer in June 2021 at age 76. In April 2001, she wrote an article for HistoryLink.org vividly capturing that exciting evening: “He wore a dark shirt and slacks and a gold lame jacket that shimmered in the lights. When he leaned toward the microphone, the tsunami of noise from the audience reached a shrieking crescendo. Frances clutched me and screamed. I watched the ambulance crew strap the girl who had fainted to a stretcher and carry her down the stairs and out of the stadium. She hadn’t been able to hear even one song.” She was probably not the only one.