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Silver Creek woman — ‘I jump-started Elvis’ career’

“I jump-started Elvis’ career,” she said to me.

Doris Willis Gracia, 86-and-a-half years old, says she gave the young Presley, who was 12 at the time, an encouragement to get up and sing at a church singing convention in 1947.

A young teen from Silver Creek, Gracia was in attendance at the singing event at Crooked Creek Baptist Church when the main guest singers failed to show up. The pastor pointed at her and Presley — who was visiting area relatives at the time — and asked them to sing instead, said Gracia.

“He told me, ‘You know I love to sing, but there’s no way I’m going to get up in front of these people and make a fool out of myself,’” she said.

The King of Rock-n-Roll is not remembered as anything less than full-on extrovert, but Gracia says he was certainly not always that way.

“He was shy, painfully shy.”

“I told him, ‘You look out there at all those people and see if anybody even looks like they can sing as well as you,’” said Gracia. “That gave him confidence.”

“I also told him to focus on his words and enunciate — act like he’s getting $100 a word.”

She said she also told him if he didn’t get up and sing, he’d spend the rest of his life wondering what might have happened if he had just done it.

So Presley and Gracia got up and sang the familiar gospel songs of the time, taking turns playing piano while the other sang.

“I’d been singing my whole life,” said Gracia. “I wasn’t afraid. And he got hooked on audience approval.”

She only saw Elvis once in person after that, she said. While working as a registered nurse in Birmingham in 1973, she saw him in the hospital. She said she was sure he would have no recollection of her, but also was afraid he would recognize her right away and feel obligated to her in some way. So she just avoided him.

After his death, Gracia said she met some people who had toured with Elvis — and they told her something surprising. Not only did Elvis remember a 14-year-old girl from South Mississippi who encouraged him to get past his stage fright, he had looked for her off-and-on for years. But because he couldn’t remember her name he had not been successful in the search.

“They told me that he spoke about me,” said Gracia. “He remembered me and tried to find me.”

She said she didn’t think about it much after that, until a couple of years ago when it came to mind. She mentioned it to someone and has been asked to tell the story several times since then.

“I don’t know why I didn’t think about it for 70 years,” she said. “But I gave Elvis his start, you could say.”

She’s authored four books — one is a children’s book and the others are stories from her life recorded in “The Girl from Silver Creek” (books one and two) and “Honorably Mentioned.” All are available on lulu.com.

Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com.