Elvis tribute artists keep the King alive in Biloxi
The Coast paid homage to Elvis Presley even before he became famous. In the mid-1950s The King performed in Coast clubs, and as might be expected of this charmer, he found a girlfriend here.
June Juanico, that Biloxi gal, is mentioned on more than 50 pages of the new Alanna Nash book, “Baby, Let’s Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him.” The 684-page book, which explores dozens of Elvis love interests, is touted as the first to explore Elvis’ relationships with women and how they formed his music and his life.
Juanico, now 72 and still living in Biloxi, met Elvis in 1955 when he performed at Keesler Airmen’s Club. Their first eye contact launched a two-year romance that met the approval of Elvis’ mom but not of his infamous handler, Col. Tom Parker.
June didn’t like that Parker promoted other romances — some real, some simply for publicity — and she certainly didn’t like Elvis to date others at the same time. So in 1957 she ended their relationship at a New Orleans train stop with, “I love you, Elvis Presley, and I always will.”
Today, Juanico says she never stopped loving him. When Elvis was scheduled to perform for the grand opening of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in 1977, she planned to touch base with him again.
Nash, a music journalist, quotes Juanico in the new book about when she hears of Elvis’ death, just months before he was to perform at the Coliseum:
“I went over to the television and fell to my knees in front of it. All I could do was make grunting sounds. I couldn’t breathe. I honestly think if my mother had not been with me, I might have died. In my heart, I always thought that Elvis and I would be together again, somewhere down the road.”
That part of the Elvis-Juanico story is teary, but much of what Nash conveys shows the sense of humor that marks Juanico’s personality.
When asked by the Sun Herald about her favorite June Juanico story, Nash remembered the time the Biloxian was visiting Memphis in 1963 and Elvis was courting but not yet married to Priscilla.
Juanico went to the theater where Elvis was performing, and Nash writes:
“Her heart was racing as she peered through the glass doors at the Memphian and she pounded hard on the thick metal in hopes someone would come let her in. A man came, and she was flabbergasted when he said, ‘You’re June, aren’t you? I’ve seen pictures of you at the house. I’ll go tell Elvis you’re here.’ June grabbed his arm. ‘No,’ she said, a plead in her voice. ‘If you don’t mind, let me just go surprise him.’
“Elvis was one of the most famous men in the world now, and he lived in a different universe than the one they’d shared in the 1950s. With his streamlined features, tailored clothes, and razor-cut hair, he hardly looked like the same person. It took all the nerve she could muster, but she made her way down the aisle.
“I went in the row behind him and I tapped him on the back, and as he turned around and looked at me, our eyes just locked. He got up and put me in a death grip. Joe Esposito ran over because he thought someone was hurting him. But Elvis was holding on to me.
“Priscilla was sitting next to him, and she just kept her eyes glued to the screen. She was very gracious. But when I got back to my girlfriends, I said, ‘If y’all want to buy some makeup in Memphis, Tennessee, you ain’t gonna find any, because Priscilla’s got it all on her face.’”
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.