Five ways to celebrate Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday, Chicago-style

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Elvis Presley’s musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager. —

And 38 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains one of the greatest artists in music history.

To commemorate what would have been his 80th birthday on Jan. 8, here are a few ways to celebrate the man and his music (outside of recommending my favorite Presley films or visiting his Graceland home, of course) right here in Chicago:

1. A very cool way to sample Elvis and his music is to catch a performance of “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln. The Tony Award-winning show, which stars Brandon Bennett (as Elvis Presley), Shaun Whitley (as Carl Perkins), Lance Lipinsky (as Jerry Lee Lewis) and Adam Lee (as Johnny Cash), is the longest-running Broadway musical production in Chicago history. The show was inspired by a legendary 1956 Sun Records recording session (immortalized in an iconic black-and-white photo) that brought together the four music icons for a long night of conversation, career-changing decisions, and plenty of the music that made each of them superstars.

The show also features Kelly Lamont (as Dyanne), Jason Bradley (as Sun Records founder/producer Sam Phillips), Marc Edelstein (as Jay Perkins/bassist) and Dan Leali (as Fluke/drummer).

Tickets are available at the  box office, phone (773) 935-6100, and online at

2. It wouldn’t be Elvis’ birthday in Chicago without the annual Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular,” this year running Jan 8-10 and starring Shawn Klush, Cody Ray Slaughter and Ryan Pelton.

The tribute concerts also feature special guests: D.J. Fontana, The Sweet Inspirations and The Blackwood Quartet, all backed by The Fabulous Ambassadors band.

The schedule:

• 7:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Visit

• 8 p.m. Jan. 9 at Hemmens Cultural Center, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin;

• 8 p.m. Jan. 10 at Star Plaza Theatre, I 65 and US 30, Merrillville, Ind.;

3. Don’t want to head out into the cold? Then curl up on the couch with two of the best books written about Presley. Released on Dec. 30, the enhanced two-part biography, “Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley” + “Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley” by Peter Guralnick have been called “the definitive Elvis texts” with good reason: They are simply the best.

These “enhanced” versions feature loads of supplemental content, including newly shot video segments with Guralnick and original interviews with Sun Studios founder Sam Phillips, producer Buddy Killen, and Elvis’ publicly recognized girlfriend June Juanico, sound engineer Bill Porter, ”68 Comeback Special” musical director Billy Goldenberg and bassist Jerry Scheff.

In terms of the enhanced editions, they’re something I’ve been working on for most of the last couple of years, Guralnick said in a recent interview with The Commercial Appeal, whose other masterpieces on American R&B and roots music, Lost Highway and Sweet Soul Music, were also given the enhanced e-book treatment last fall. Who knows if it’s a form whose time has come?, he says. But putting it together — pulling all the extra video, audio and text — has been really fun.

4. Call it a Chicago tradition. For the past 15 years, The Original Mother’s (26 W. Division) has hosted an annual Elvis birthday bash on Jan. 8. This year is no exception.

The 15th annual “Elvis Fest” kicks off at 7 p.m. on Thursday, with Radio Hall of Famer Dick Biondi (94.7 WLS-FM) as host (he’ll also be broadcasting live from the event).

The fun includes Elvis tribute artists (with full band), Elvis look-alike contest (the prize is a trip for two to Las Vegas!), Elvis karaoke, photo booth, Elvis-themed props and of course, the FREE peanut butter-and-banana sandwich buffet. An Elvis birthday cake will also be available. No cover charge; a $5 suggested donation will benefit the Chicago Red Cross and their disaster relief efforts in Illinois.

Budilovsky Funeral Home, 26th and Lawndale. / Family photo

Elvis Presley pictured at the “Aloha from Hawaii” concert in 1973. | AP

5. You can keep the celebration going by heading to the Harold Washington Library on Jan. 16 for the public library’s first-ever Elvis Karaoke. The free event begins at 12:15 p.m. in the library’s Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, 400 S. State.

Participants can choose two Presley songs from the available catalog. Lyric sheets and the music track also will be provided.

The library’s Music Information Center will offer song selections on a first-come, first-served basis; pre-registration for the event is required. Registration closes at 5 p.m. Jan. 15 (or when all songs are selected, whichever comes first). Call (312) 747-4850 or visit

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