Elvis Presley was of German, Scottish, French, Jewish and Cherokee ancestry. Presley's father, Vernon (April 10, 1916–June 26, 1979), had several low-paying jobs, including sharecropper and truck driver. His mother, Gladys Love Smith (April 25, 1912–August 14, 1958) worked as a sewing machine operator. They met in Tupelo, Mississippi, and eloped to Pontotoc County where they married on June 17, 1933.
Presley was born in a two room house, built by his father, in East Tupelo. He was the second of identical twins—his brother was stillborn and given the name Jesse Garon. He grew up as an only child and "was, everyone agreed, unusually close to his mother." The family lived just above the poverty line and attended the Assembly of God church. b Vernon has been described as "a malingerer, always averse to work and responsibility." In 1938, he was jailed for an eight dollar check forgery. During his absence, his wife, described as "voluble, lively, full of spunk", lost the family home. Priscilla Presley recalls her as "a surreptitious drinker and alcoholic."
Presley was bullied at school; classmates threw "things at him—rotten fruit and stuff—because he was different... quiet and he stuttered and he was a mama's boy."v
At age ten, he made his first public performance in a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy, the young Presley had to stand on a chair to reach the microphone and sang Red Foley's "Old Shep." He won second prize.
In 1946, Presley got his first guitar. In November 1948, the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, allegedly because Vernon—in addition to needing work—had to escape the law for transporting bootleg liquor. In 1949, they lived at Lauderdale Courts, a public housing development in one of Memphis' poorer sections. Presley practiced playing guitar in the laundry room and also played in a five-piece band with other tenants. Another resident, Johnny Burnette, recalled, "Wherever Elvis went he'd have his guitar slung across his back... [H]e'd go in to one of the cafes or bars... Then some folks would say: 'Let's hear you sing, boy.'"Presley attended L. C. Humes High School, but fellow students apparently viewed the young singer's performing unfavorably: One recalled that he was "a sad, shy, not especially attractive boy" whose guitar playing was not likely to win any prizes. Many of the other children made fun of him as a 'trashy' kind of boy playing 'trashy' hillbilly music."
Presley occasionally worked evenings to boost the family income. He began to grow his sideburns and dress in the wild, flashy clothes of Lansky Brothers on Beale Street. He stood out, especially in the conservative Deep South of the 1950s, and was mocked and bullied for it. Despite his unpopularity, he was a contestant in his school's 1952 "Annual Minstrel Show" and won by receiving the most applause and thus an encore (he sang "Cold Cold Icy Fingers" and "Till I Waltz Again With You").
After graduation, Presley was still rather shy, a "kid who had spent scarcely a night away from home". His third job was driving a truck for the Crown Electric Company. He began wearing his hair longer with a "ducktail"—the style of truck drivers at that time.