Crossroads residents with a penchant for Elvis and an itching for Vegas need look no further than the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts for a little of both at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Donny Edwards, an internationally known Elvis tribute artist who headlines at the South Point Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, is bringing his show, “An Authentic Tribute to Elvis,” to Victoria.
Edwards listened to Elvis music and watched Elvis movies growing up in Lake Jackson, and when people in high school began pointing out how much he looked like Elvis, he felt “drawn to him.”
Edwards parents said he started shaking his legs to music soon after he could walk, he said.
“It was how I felt the music before I had seen Elvis,” Edwards said. “For me, his movements I kind of understood, his rhythm of how he moves on the drum beat.”
Just after high school, he attended Elvis Week at Graceland in Memphis, where he met D.J. Fontana, longtime drummer for Elvis, other former bandmates and former friends of the “King of Rock and Roll.” They complimented Edwards on his resemblance to Elvis.
Several years later, he decided to enter an Elvis contest in Lake Jackson and began watching as much film footage of the King as possible. He won the contest, and his career took off quickly. He continued to study and perfect Elvis’ moves, mannerisms and voice, and the process became an art form.
“Mimicking someone is a craft,” he said. “I watched everything he did, how he pivoted his leg, which leg he leaned on the most, certain mannerisms – like basketball practice when you do certain shots all the time until you have them down.”
Some aspects of the craft came naturally to Edwards because of “a connection,” and other aspects required “breaking down movements and mannerisms” to get them right.
In his shows, Edwards includes interesting stories about the history behind Elvis’ songs. For example, “Are You Lonesome Tonight” was not on the original set list, but Elvis chose to record it because the request came from Colonel Tom Parker, his manager. The song, which had been recorded previously by Al Jolson, was a favorite of Parker and his wife’s when they dated, Edwards said. Elvis’ version hit No. 1 on the music charts.
“I include things that influenced Elvis from his childhood and tidbits about the songs – a music history lesson – why he chose to record songs and the significance of certain songs on his career,” Edwards said.
While Elvis tribute artists have rented space at Graceland for performances, Edwards is the only tribute artist ever hired by Graceland to perform, he said. The Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino where Elvis performed more than 600 times over seven years also hired Edwards to perform for the 40th anniversary show commemorating Elvis’ death. So far, all of Edwards’ Las Vegas concerts have sold out.
Shirley Morgan, a resident of Natchez, Miss., who heads up Edwards’ fan club, grew up listening to Elvis’ music. She discovered Edwards at a performance in Bossier City, La., about 15 years ago.
“I knew as soon as he opened his mouth that he had potential and was going to be great,” said Morgan, whose nickname is “Moody Blue,” her favorite Elvis song. “When I first saw Donny, his look, his voice, his presentation, even at a young age, just beginning, was most impressive, and now I’ve watched him grow and become this great ETA (Elvis tribute artist).”
Morgan travels to most of Edwards’ shows, especially those in Louisiana, Texas and Las Vegas. The only shows she does not attend are those overseas. Edwards has performed in about a dozen countries outside the United States.
“It takes you back in time – if you just close your eyes, you think it’s Elvis on stage,” Morgan said. “He’s so much like him and brings back so many wonderful memories. He portrays Elvis to the fullest.”
In addition to being one of the most realistic and sought-after Elvis tribute artists, Edwards is a kind and humble performer who takes as much time as necessary to visit with all of his fans at the meet-and-greets after shows, Morgan said.
“He loves and respects Elvis ... and he stays as long as every fan stays to take pictures and talk,” she said. “He’s there for people to portray Elvis as should be done.”
Morgan likes the 1970s-era portion of the performance best because of the “beautiful ballads.”
Elvis’ voice was innately beautiful, but he developed his range and even hit operatic notes during his career, Edwards said. Edwards takes pride in his ability to sound like Elvis “from the beginning to the end and everything in between.”
“I never get tired of Elvis,” Edwards said. “No matter what he sang, he took it and made it his own.”