Young musicians all shook up over Elvis at Clinton Center

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 22, 2011 8:14 PM
Young musicians all shook up over Elvis at Clinton Center

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - Elvis has entered the building at the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center.

The presidential library, whose namesake never shied away from his love of The King, has transformed into a school of rock this week with 25 elementary-school students strumming guitars, banging on drums and learning about Elvis during Rock 'n Roll Camp.

"A lot of these kids have never really known what Elvis is about, and they have never played anything," said Smokey Emerson, the camp's instructor. "I want them to leave here with a love for music and the ability to at least to somewhat play an instrument."

The library is also hosting two exhibits this summer celebrating the Memphis-born artist, a nod to the music-loving former President Bill Clinton's fascination with Elvis.

Stephanie Streett, executive director of the William J. Clinton Foundation, said the camp has been "a fantastic experience."

"The kids are not only learning about various musical styles and the life of Elvis Presley, but also having a great time experimenting with new instruments," she said.

Clinton, who once played sax on The Arsenio Hall Show, has said he identified with the rock-and-roll legend because of their shared small-town Southern roots.

He wrote in his 2004 autobiography "My Life": "I never quite escaped Elvis. In the '92 campaign, some members of my staff nicknamed me Elvis."

During his presidency, people often sent him Elvis souvenirs and paintings featuring himself and the late rock star.

One exhibit, in partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis, highlights Elvis movie memorabilia such as posters, scripts and the 1960 MG car used by Elvis in "Blue Hawaii" that was also part of his personal collection at that time.

The other exhibit features a series of black and white photographs by Alfred Wertheimer. Wertheimer traveled with Elvis in 1956 shortly before he became a superstar.

The campers have toured the exhibit, watched Elvis videos and learned about his legacy in rock history class.

On Tuesday afternoon, Elvis impersonator Matt Joyce discussed Elvis' life and sang classics like "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock." He threw out teddy bears and passed out Hawaiian leis.

The students, who are learning more modern songs by artists like Kings of Leon and Blink 182, will give a free concert to the public Friday afternoon at the Clinton Center's Great Hall.

Andrew Brightop, 10, of Little Rock, began playing electric guitar six months ago. The aspiring rock star decided to attend the camp to learn to play more instruments.

"I hope to learn bass and drums so I can have a better reference for music when I'm older," he said.

Madison Myers, 9, of Little Rock is unsure about life as a rock star. But she's learning to play the drums just in case.

"I've been playing drums for two years on (video game) Rock Band," Myers said. "I like drums better than a string instruments. It's easier. I might be a drummer when I grow up. Or a model. Or a veterinarian."

Emerson said the camp's instruments and equipment were donated by other instructors and local musicians. The charge for the full-day camp is $200 for non-members and $150 for members of the Clinton Foundation. Another camp for older students is scheduled for July.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Greg McCune)