A look back at Elvis Presley’s lasting legacy in the Aloha State

All-star tribute airs Sunday on KHNL

Elvis made a lasting impact on Hawaii

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The biggest names in music will honor the King of Rock 'n' Roll during NBC’s “Elvis All-Star Tribute” on Sunday.

The television event celebrates the 50th anniversary of the network’s ’Elvis Presley’s 68 Comeback Special.'

Wearing his iconic black leather, Presley performed his biggest hits and climbed back to the top of the charts. But by that time, he had already made a huge impact on Hawaii.

The NBC Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special' airs at 8 p.m. on KHNL.
The NBC Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special' airs at 8 p.m. on KHNL.

Tom Moffatt, the legendary local concert promoter who died in 2016, was interviewed in 2011 about the root’s of Elvis’ first performance in the Aloha State.

“Elvis had an open time period, and I think Colonel Parker remembered all the fan mail that kids wrote from Hawaii,” Moffatt said, in a PBS Hawaii broadcast. “So to fill that one date that they needed, they decided to come to Hawaii. And that’s why Elvis came to Hawaii in November of 1957.”

Prior to his arrival, Elvis sent a telegram to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper.

“I know that I will enjoy your islands, I like to surf and swim," Presley wrote. "Have read about Hawaiian hospitality and am eagerly looking forward to same.”

RCA telegram communication Presley sent the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1957.
RCA telegram communication Presley sent the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1957.

Upon his arrival, The King stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, later performing two concerts at the Honolulu Stadium. Moffatt remembered organizers removing the boxing ring from the venue to make way for the simple stage.

“And just about one of the most memorable experiences, just introducing Elvis on stage, and watch what happened. And watch him on stage, with really no visual support that performers have today,” Moffatt recalled.

Tickets prices started at $1.50 for Elvis's 1957 concert at Honolulu Stadium.
Tickets prices started at $1.50 for Elvis's 1957 concert at Honolulu Stadium.

On later visits, Elvis would stay at the Ilikai — the “heartbreak hotel” where superfan Kathleen King first laid eyes on him.

“As a youngster, running around Honolulu, we used to follow him everywhere,” King said.

Kathleen now gives Elvis tours around Oahu. The first stop is often the Blaisdell Arena, where a statue of the legendary musician is dedicated to Presley’s “Aloha From Hawaii” concert.

Fan Kathleen King stands by the Elvis statue along Ward Avenue in Honolulu.
Fan Kathleen King stands by the Elvis statue along Ward Avenue in Honolulu.

The show was broadcast worldwide via satellite from Hawaii in 1973 – eventually reaching an audience of over 1.5 billion people.

Elvis also filmed a number of movies in Hawaii, and that legacy can still be seen on the walls of the Rock Island Cafe in Waikiki.

Owner Michael Gelfo sells a number of Elvis collectibles out of the newly-relocated fifties-styled diner on the corner of Kalakaua Avenue and Ena Road. They memorabilia includes hand-painted original posters that hung in Hawaii theaters.

“Back in the day, they didn’t send the movie posters to Hawaii,” Gelfo explains, saying that local artists were commissioned to paint them instead. “They put the publicity stills in the picture and then painted the rest of it.”

Original hand painted Elvis movie posters from Hawaii sell for more than $1,000 at Rock Island Cafe in Waikiki.
Original hand painted Elvis movie posters from Hawaii sell for more than $1,000 at Rock Island Cafe in Waikiki.

Elvis clearly had an affection for Hawaii, and connected with many around the Aloha State.

King sums it up like this: “I think with Hawaii’s, with our mixtures of cultures, our tolerance, and our general aloha ... he embraced that, because that was him.”

The 50th anniversary of NBC’s Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special’ airs at 8 p.m. Sunday night.

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