Courtesy of the Presley Family
For Branson's Presley family, 40 years is just the beginning
For Branson’s renowned Presley family, the summer of 2007 witnessed laughter and celebration, tears and grief. Through it all, the four generations who have made Presleys’ Country Jubilee an institution did what they do best. And what they do best, contrary to popular belief, would not be their combination of music and comedy, even though that is exceptional and has been profiled on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, Paul Harvey, Regis and Kathie Lee, and a host of other national broadcasts.
What the Presleys do best is stick together as a tightknit family, relying on their deep-rooted faith in God and a faith in the inseparable family bonds that have seen them through two-score years of good times and bad.
On June 30, 2007 the übertalented family of musicians celebrated their 40th year of performing on Branson’s 76 Country Boulevard. They were the first entertainers to build a theatre on that stretch of highway now filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic. The Presleys were honored not just by friends and fans, but also by Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, the State Legislature, the City of Branson, the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Taney County Commissioners. It was a time of smiles and pride, particularly for the matriarch and patriarch of the clan, Lloyd and Bessie Mae Presley.
Just a month and a half later, on August 12, Bessie Mae passed away at the age of 84, succumbing to the pulmonary fibrosis and diabetes she had battled with nary a complaint for several years. Although each and every Presley was rocked to the core by the profound loss of their loving and seemingly indestructible wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, they found solace in the sources that had served them so well in years past—faith and each other. Eventually, they relied on the knowledge that their beloved Bessie Mae had lived a full and extraordinarily happy life, experiencing countless smiles at the fulfillment of professional dreams and, more important, infinite pride in the people her large family had become—people who care not just about one another but also about friends, strangers, and the community.
The Presley story begins in the 1850s, when the family first set foot in the green and rugged Ozark hills of southwest Missouri. However, the more modern tale starts in 1934, when ten-year-old Lloyd Presley, son of a Pentecostal preacher, watched his older brother, Don, trade a prized hound dog for a guitar. Such would be the impetus for a musical legacy that to this day shows no sign of slowing.
“That’s where the music started,” Lloyd says with a smile. “But that hound dog was a good ol’ dog, and I sure hated to see him go.” Both Don and Lloyd’s sister, Elva Mae, made token efforts to learn the guitar. However, both were teenagers and had other pursuits on their minds. The instrument was barely in its case and stashed under the bed before young Lloyd pulled it out and began to teach himself music.
“Of course me being just a little kid, I was really watching everything she’d been doing. When she quit going to lessons and quit playing guitar, I jumped right on it,” he says. “I had already learned the chords that she had learned, just by watching her play, and it all kind of went on from there.”
Lloyd had a natural aptitude for guitar and singing, and with another brother, Elwin, joining in with his harmonica and voice, the two began playing in their father’s church, at ice cream suppers and pie socials, and any venue that would allow them to pluck and sing from the back of a flatbed truck. And then lightning struck … the good kind. At age eighteen, Lloyd happened to be hanging out with friends near the bumper car rides at Springfield’s Doling Park. It was there, for the first time, that he laid eyes upon Bessie Mae Garrison. The two began dating (Lloyd always brought along his guitar), and in 1942, the couple married. They remained devoted and in love for nearly 65 years.