By Wayne Harada
Today (Aug. 16) marks the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley, the unmatched King of Rock.
And his historic "Aloha From Hawaii" telecast, beamed from the Blaisdell Arena (previously, the Honolulu International Center Arena), remains an icon in broadcast journalism.
In memory of Elvis, and to rekindle and jumpstart those fading recollections of those who were there "live" — at a wicked post-midnight hour, so timed to reach the wide international viewership — here's how I reviewed the performance and experience in the Honolulu Advertiser. Original publication date: Jan. 14, 1973.
Gold Crown Awarded to "King" Elvis
By Wayne Harada
Elvis Presley received a golden crown - and a standing ovation - at the conclusion of his unprecedented satellite live TV concert beamed to a global audience of over 1.5 billion in the wee hours of the morning yesterday. A perspiring Presley simply held the crown, as he accepted the accolades - and thus, The King vanished backstage, another night's work completed.
The HIC Arena, dammed with 6000 Hawaii fans, became a supersized TV studio for the hour-long spectacle, "Aloha from Hawaii," which was televised to nearly 40 nations. It was a thrilling compact hour - long on music, loud on screams - Presley performed a total of 25 songs, including a rare and poignant rendition of Kui Lee's "I'll Remember You." Like Friday night's dress rehearsal, yesterday's performance was a benefit for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund.
But unlike any other charitable production here, this one had that aura of The Big Time: a superstar doing a super performance, right before the eyes of the world. Camera crews were everywhere: on stage, in the aisles, in the audience, zooming in on Presley and his breakthrough performance, coordinated by RCA Record Tours. "Aloha from Hawaii" is the first entertainment special telecast live to a global audience; it will be expanded into a 90-minute NBC-TV special, for viewing here and on the Mainland later this year.
Perhaps only a phenomenon like Presley could pull off such a coup, at such a wicked show-going time - 12.30 AM curtain, Hawaii time - yet draw a full house. The concert was similar in format to his pair of November shows at the HIC: it began in darkness, with the "2001: A Space Odyssey" fanfare preceding Presley's entrance; it ended with Presley singing Can't Help Fallin' in Love with You. Of course, there were differences. For starters, Presley hurled his flowing, white, studded cape - a trademark for his final number. That was a souvenir collector's dream come true. Too, the usual assortment of scarves went sailing into the audience at certain points of the show.
The specially erected set, on an unusually large stage with a protruding platform, consisted of basic black scrim that was as long as it was high, reaching to the ceiling of the arena. A series of mirrors framed both sides of the stage, and special lights - silhouetting the Presley form, spell out his name not only in English but in foreign toungues - flashed on and off occasionally. Once Presley emerged, he never was off stage. Once the show was under way, it didn't stop for commercial breaks.
For the Hawaii audience his "I'll Remember You" vocal easily was the most sentimental. The Presley version retained the Hawaiian flavor, but also capitalized on the International scope of the tune; it easily could emerge as Presley's next No. 1 hit. His American Trilogy medley - fusing Dixie, Battle Hymn of the Republic and All My Trials - was another emotional instance, sending several hundred fans to their feet. But apparently the necessity to move on the show - when such TV airing time is so precious - forced Presley to cut short the audience response.
The concert was smartly paced and packaged to suit all camps in the Presley following. There were the old hits - "Love Me," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Hound Dog," "Johnny B. Goode," "Long Tall Sally." There were the recent clicks: "Suspicious Minds," "Burning Love," "What Now My Love." There were the soulful slices: "C.C. Rider," "Something," "Fever," the latter with the classic Presley shuffles, from the hips on downwards. And there were the special Presley renderings of "Welcome to My World," "It's Over," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
Only once did he pluck his guitar. After all, he had all the musical backing he needed: a six piece combo that travels with him, J.D. Sumner and The Stamps plus The Sweet Inspirations doing the background vocals, and a gigantic orchestra of about 40 pieces, including a splendidly nimble string section consisting of some of our symphony musicians. Presley kept his talk to a minimum. He quipped about "Hound Dog:" "I was just a baby when I did that song. With sideburns." He introduced Jack Lord as one of his actor favorites. And he reported that his original goal of $25,000 for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund had been exceeded, with more than $75,000 raised prior to show time.
Presley's "Aloha for Hawaii" has been demonstrated before, when he helped raise funds for the building of the USS Arizona Memorial a decade ago. Yesterday's show reaffirms Presley's and manager Col. Tom Parker's philanthropic fondness for Hawaii. Like the enduring nature of Kui Lee's music, the incandescence of Presley is incomparable. Perhaps Presley had a hidden meaning regarding the late Kui Lee, when he sang the composer's closing lines in "I'll Remember You," as follows: "...love me always, promise always, you'll remember, too."
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