Now Playing in Academe: the King of Rock’n’Roll

At the University of Mississippi, the first annual International Conference on Elvis Presley brought together fans and scholars

This summer, fans were buoyant and detractors aghast when a popular Memphis high school graduate entered the halls of academe as the subject of the first annual International Conference on Elvis Presley. A hundred people, including scholars who were sometimes as worshipful as the fans, met at the University of Mississippi in Oxford to discuss the cultural impact of an icon who, nearly two decades after his death, is bigger than ever. Participants ranged from the creator of a roving 30,000-piece installation of Elvis mementos, to authors who are contributing to the continual stream of books about the rock'n'roll star. But one speaker, speculating on the musician's lasting allure, suggested that Elvis' truncated life is part of the appeal. The story of Elvis, says folklorist Roger Manley, is one of a poor boy born in humble circumstances who died young but had changed the world before his death.

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