The Queen of Country comedy on the King of Rock and Roll

An interview with Minnie Pearl

By Shelly Ritter. (First published: Graceland Express, October-December edition, 1990)

"I didn't know him well" she confided. Yet, from their brief encounters she formed some very keen and insightful impressions of Elvis. . It struck me as fascinating that she, a major figure in country music history, was affected by Elvis, a major figure in rock and roll. The link between the two appears to have stemmed from her longtime friendship with the Colonel and the nature of her husband 's profession. A portion of our conversation follows.

Minnie had met Elvis before they worked together in Hawaii. She vividly remembers her first introduction:

"My husband (Henry Cannon) was a pilot. He flew Elvis when Elvis first started making appearances around the country. One afternoon he (Henry) called me and said, 'I'm coming to Memphis with Elvis - and I want you to meet him. He's going to show there tonight. Take an American, or some flight, and come down there and meet me.'

So, I knew about Elvis. Of course, everybody knew about him then. He was very big at that time; but I never had met him really. When I got to be with him was when Colonel Parker called me and said that they were going to Hawaii to finish raising the money to build the USS Arizona and would I go?? Well, of course. . . I went.

The plane that we all went to Hawaii on was supposed to leave at nine o'clock. We all met in the VIP room at 8:30. We had coffee in the VIP room and then we went out and got on the plane. I was just thrilled to death to be going. I had not been to Hawaii. Henry was with me and the Jordanaires, who backed Elvis at that point and at a lot of times.
Elvis' troop filled up the entire first class of that plane. I don't know how many people were along, with press and his entourage of people that he carried with him.

We all got down and were ready to go - and nothing happened. I was sitting in the aisle. We saw two empty seats up front. Nobody came. They held the plane and they held the plane. . . and finally General James Stewart and his wife got on and took the seats. We took off. We got out about an hour and Elvis came up and touched me and said, 'Miss Minnie, do you think it would be out of order if I go up and speak to General Stewart? I've always been such a fan of his.'
I said, 'Well, I think he would love it.' So Elvis went up to speak to the Stewarts. He knelt down in the aisle by General Jimmy Stewart and they had a little conversation. Then he came back.

Now, the reason I brought up that story about General Stewart is that this was typical of Elvis as I knew him. He would feel a hesistancy in bothering anybody. He was not aware, very obviously, of the fact that at that point he was probably the biggest thing in the nation.

Of course General Stewart was big too. This was some time after WWII; but General Stewart was still a big movie star and a big general in our service. It was so typical of Elvis to say, 'Do you think it would be out of order?' He was very polite.
Before we got off the plane, Colonel Parker came to me and he said, 'Now when we get off the plane, you stay with Elvis. I want you in all the pictures.'

Now, I didn't know what staying with Elvis involved. If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have stayed with Elvis. so, we taxied up at the gate. They didn't have jetways then. You got off and went down the steps. Well. . . I never saw as many women in my life! There is no way to describe the pandemonium. They were screaming. They were yelling. They (Colonel Parker and the security) told Elvis for us to be the last to leave the plane. They (the women and the press) were taking pictures and everything. So when we got down off the plane, the minute Elvis made his appearance at the door of the plane, the screaming got even worse.
We got off the plane and the girls were still screaming. He was kind enough . . . I remember distinctly . . . He walked over and he signed a few autographs over the fence. They were screaming. I had never seen this.

Elvis and Minnie make their way through the crowd at their hotel.

We have boys now, and men, in the business - in our business and in the rock and roll business and all the show business forms - young men who have this reaction on women. They (the women) scream. They yell. They do all sorts of wild things. But this (the time in Hawaii) was the first that I'd ever seen and I was just horrified. I thought they were going to kill him. They would have if they could have gotten loose, I'm afraid.

When we got to the hotel, there were 500 screaming women there. We stayed at the Hawaiian Village. The police were standing there trying to keep the crowd back. They didn't have the fence there like they did at the airport so it was very dangerous. The police had this cordon of arms together holding the crowd back, but the crowd burst through when Elvis stepped out of the limo. These women, screaming women - all ages, they burst through the police and started grabbing at Elvis. Of course, that scared Colonel Tom Parker to death. They weren't after me. They didn't care anything about me, but they were after him. We finally escaped them and got inside.

We started up in the elevator and I said to Elvis, 'How do you stand that?' He had it everywhere he went. I knew that.
'I just got used to it,' he said. I said, 'You know those women could kill you.' 'They're not gonna hurt me,' he said.
WeIl, what he didn't know was they probably would have hurt him if they had been able to get him. They called in more policemen of course.

He stayed in his room the whole time. We did the show that night. I never will forget that night. It was so exciting. The Jordanaires opened the show and then I worked. When it got time for Elvis to come out everyone was so excited. All the men and women were screaming. I watched him from the wings. He was at his peak. He was handsome and alive and exciting and just great. I guess Elvis must have sung over an hour, maybe more. Then we all went back to the hotel.

The next morning Colonel Parker called and asked Henry and me to come up to Elvis' suite and have some breakfast. When we came up to his suite there were at least five policemen stationed up there. They even had them stationed at the elevator all up and down the hall. He was so busy talking on the telephone with different people. Oh, it was so exciting to me! I had never been around a star that big. I had been in the business for twenty-some-odd years, but I had never been around a star that big. He couldn't leave the hotel except under heavy guard. I remember they told us about one woman who got in and was going to grab him. It was . . . it was incredible how they went wild over him.

I think he would be alive today, probably, if he had been allowed to mix and mingle with his fans. I think it was a great cross for him to bear that he couldn't get out and be with his fans. I think he loved his fans. I think that 's why they loved him and still love him. I think fans are very conscious and sensitive to the tact that performers love them. I don't think that he was able, really, to perform a lot of times when he did. I worried about that - same way I did with Hank Williams, Sr. He (Williams) was one of my very best friends. I think there just comes a point where you are just too sick to perform and you should not be forced to do that. When people pay their money, they want to see you. That's the way it was with him. I like to remember him the way he was in Hawaii.

I can always remember that experience in Hawaii pleasantly on account of him (Elvis). I've been with certain stars; and I've been with the current stars. Some are caring and pay attention to their fans and to their fellow performers and some are too busy. Elvis never seemed too busy.' ,

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Editors note:

Sarah Ophelia Cannon (Minnie Pearl) born on October 25, 1912
died on March 4, 1996 at the age of 83.


Minnie Pearl opens for Elvis at Bloch Arena, March 25, 1961