It is with great sadness that Elvis Presley fans the world over said goodbye and God Bless to Joe Guercio and Millie Kirkham over the past three weeks. Both played their part in ensuring the sound and spectacle of Elvis live in concert was awe inspiring. For those for who these names are unfamiliar it is only fitting that we reflect on their legacy, and time with the king.
Millie Kirkham – 24th June 1923 – 14th December 2014
Millie Kirkham was born Mildred Eakes in Hermitage, Tennessee. She performed in high school bands in the early 1940s before graduating to session work. Millie was known as the “Nashville soprano” and teamed with the Jordanaires on numerous hit records. She worked with Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Brenda Lee, Eddie Arnold, and Elvis Presley.
Elvis had heard the song “Gone” in which Millie sang the angelic background harmony. Elvis asked the Jordanaires “who is that lady that sang on Gone? to which the Jordanaires replied “that is Millie, Millie Kirkham”. It was during the “Blue Christmas” recording session that Millie arrived. She was six months pregnant, which was unknown to Elvis, and immediately upon her arrival Elvis said “someone please get that lady a chair”. Scotty Moore, the guitarist of the King for his early career recalled “Anytime they needed that high voice on something, she was always there.” Moore, who played on the 1957 “Blue Christmas” session, remembered Kirkham as not only a fine singer, but “a very nice lady.”
Her soprano was heard on many of Elvis Presley‘s recordings such as “The Wonder Of You, Surrender, How Great Thou Art, Polk Salad Annie, Bridge Over Troubled Water,Don’t, Just Pretend, (You’re The) Devil in Disguise, C.C. Rider” and many others. She also sang with Elvis on many of his movie soundtracks and performed with him on stage in the 1970 documentary, Elvis: That’s the Way It Is in Las Vegas.
Millie Kirkham talks about recording with Elvis Presley
May she rest in peace and sing with Elvis once more in heaven.
Joe Guercio – 16th July 1927 – 4th January 2015
Joe Guercio was Elvis Presley’s musical director and conductor from 1970 until Presley’s death in 1977. He and Elvis Presley first crossed paths in Las Vegas, soon after the rock legend began his famed residency at the International Hotel. Joe was the International’s musical director, and soon found himself leading a rhythm section and 26-piece orchestra behind Presley, who was known for his spontaneity. He would joke that his job was “like following a marble down concrete steps.”
In the process, he made a few creative choices that would become among Presley’s best-known calling cards. The peppy horn fanfare that played during Presley’s stage entrances and exits was Joe Guercio’s composition. He also came up with the idea to open his Vegas shows with Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra,” best known for its inclusion in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Speaking whilst working in the UK Pricilla Presley said “I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Joe Guercio. He was a close friend and associate who will be greatly missed by us all. I was fortunate to see him at Graceland a few months ago, and as only Joe could do, he had us all laughing with him at his stories. His musical talent was unsurpassed. Elvis loved working with him. We have all lost a great man and a true gentleman. My heart goes out to his beloved family.”
In the decades after Elvis Presley’s death, Mr. Guercio was still one of many keeping the legend of “The King” alive. Starting in 1997, he served as the conductor for “Elvis: The Concert,” which paired a live band with archival Presley recordings. He also was on hand for the “Elvis 35th Anniversary Concert” in Memphis in 2012.
“All of us at Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Joe Guercio,” said CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Jack Soden. “He was a dear friend and loved by all. Joe not only entertained millions as an incredibly talented musical director, but also entertained all that knew him with his wonderful sense of humor. The world has lost a great man, and we all have lost a special friend.”
In addition to Presley, Joe Guercio worked with a number of other musical giants over the years. He began his career as an accompanist for Patti Page and was an arranger for Barbra Streisand’s “Sweet Inspiration/Where You Lead” and Gladys Knight’s “The Way We Were/Try to Remember.” In 1997, his career even took him to the Vatican, when he joined B.B. King to perform at the Vatican’s annual Christmas concert and meet Pope John Paul II.
Music has just got a whole lot sweeter in Heaven, RIP Joe and thank you.
Joe Guercio talks Elvis – You can see what a wonderful man was………..