Elvi converge on Collingwood

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Collingwood, Ont. was alive from July 26 – 29 with the sights and sounds of Elvis Presley. London may have the Olympics, but this well-manicured community a few hours north of Toronto is home to the world’s largest Elvis festival.

And I was smack dab in the middle of the activities, surrounded by more than 10,000 Elvis fans as well as more than 125 artists from around the globe. This year’s theme was “Elvis Worldwide.”

This year’s event featured 10 international champions who competed for top honours. They were Mark Rio of Brazil, Johnny Lee Memphis of Scotland, Mark Leen of Ireland, Ben Portsmouth of England, Pete Storm of England, Dean Vegas and Mark Andrew of Australia, Henrik Busborg of Denmark, Oliver Steinhoff of Germany and Mori Yasumasa of Japan.

In fact, this marked the 18th year for the colourful event.

Festival spokeswoman Julie Card told me this year’s event hosted special guests who worked with Elvis and became close friends with the legend.

The festival gave fans a chance to speak one-on-one with the likes of Elvis’ childhood friend, Jerry Schilling, his friend and bodyguard Sam Thompson, Elvis’ official jeweller Lowell Hays and Cynthia Pepper, who co-starred with Elvis in the movie “Kissin’ Cousins.”

Elvis Aaron Presley, for the younger generation who might not be familiar with the legend, was born Jan. 8, 1935, and died Aug. 16, 1977.

He was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is commonly known by the single name Elvis and often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “The King.”

Born in Tupelo, Miss., Presley moved to Memphis, Tenn. with his family at the age of 13.

He began his career there in 1954, working with Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, who wanted to bring the sound of African American music to a wider audience.

Accompanied by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Presley was the most important popularizer of rockabilly, an up-tempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country and rhythm and blues.

RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Col. Tom Parker, who would manage the singer for more than two decades.

Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel” released in January 1956, was a number one hit.

He became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll, with a series of network television appearances and chart-topping records.

Conscripted into military service in 1958, Presley relaunched his recording career two years later with some of his most commercially successful work.

Nominated for 14 competitive Grammys, he won three and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36. He has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame.