And He’s So Shy!

August 16, 1969
By ?

You’ve read the news; you’ve seen the pictures – The King is back with the biggest bang of his thirteen-year career, playing his first live performances in over nine years. He opened his month-long cabaret season at Las Vegas’ newest and most luxurious hotel, the International, on August 1st and rocks through to August 28th, [two shows] a night, seven nights a week.

And backing up Elvis Presley with one hundred percent soul are The Sweet Inspirations. Cissy Houston, Myrna Smith, Sylvia Shemwell and Estelle Brown must be the most famous backing voices in the world. From Aretha Franklin to Dusty Springfield, and back via their own records like What The World Needs Now Is Love, they can justly be called the inspirations of soul.


Elvis and Cissy Houston backstage at the International just before a show – August 1969

It was well after midnight, our time, when the transatlantic phone crackled into the heart of activity – the main lobby of the International Hotel. “Isn’t it fantastic?” squeaked Cissy Houston, hot-in from a dusty trip round the Las Vegas desert. “I always liked Elvis,” continued Cissy, “and now I like him even more. We rehearsed for five days before opening night, and we all realised at once that this was still the greatest entertainer we had ever met. At the very first rehearsal you could see that. In fact, I don’t think he really needed any rehearsals at all. He was straight into it as if he’d never been away.”

Myrna came on the line for just thirteen excited word: “He’s gorgeous, really handsome, real trim and a real doll to work with.” Sylvia said: “He certainly didn’t leave anything to other people. He knew just what he wanted us to do on every number and he personally directed us through rehearsals. And you know the most thing? He’s so shy! We didn’t know quite what to expect at all- the biggest phenomenon in the history of pop making his return. But if he is The King, he doesn’t act like one. He’s still the little boy next door- shy, polite and an absolute knock-out. Backing him is not so different  from backing Aretha. We didn’t have to change our style and, anyway, Elvis is singing Rock ‘n’ Roll and Soul like never before. My favorite numbers from the act are Heartbreak Hotel and Can’t Help Falling In Love. He’d been gone from the scene for so long that I wondered just how good he would be. He couldn’t be better, and everyone loves him . Naturally, he’s broken every record in the city and we’ve never worked in an atmosphere quite as electric before!”

Do the girls get to see him between shows?
“No, it’s a shame. But he’s locked in his room the whole time and under constant guard by the security men. But, really, just working with him is enough.”