Donna Ellis was drawn to Elvis Presley at a young age.
She recalls a story her mother used to tell, of her as a toddler staying up late one night watching TV.
An Elvis movie was on – she surmises it must have been “Jailhouse Rock” or “Love Me Tender” when Ellis made her move.
“I walked over to the TV and kissed it,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve been a lifelong fan ever since.”
She now shares her passion for Elvis with the public, as she is hosting the Memories of Elvis with Classic Country July 29 at Orange County High School as a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
She originally held the fundraiser in 2013, starting with a show in Fredericksburg and Orange. In 2014 and 2015 she moved the show to the State Theatre in Culpeper.
After a year hiatus, she is hosting it from 1 to 5 p.m. with tickets costing $15. All proceeds go to St. Jude.
The fundraiser started after a visit to Memphis for Elvis Week in 2012.
“I met an Elvis Tribute Artist from England and we were just talking and I always knew that was one of Elvis’ charities was St. Jude’s,” Ellis said “I said ‘I would love to have a show and I would love for you to come.’ He said tell me when and I’ll be there.”
That was Andy Wood, who came in 2013 and 2014.
The Elvis Tribute Artists performing this year are Andy Svreck, from Cressona, Pa. and Michael Hoover.
“I’ve known Michael Hoover since the early 1990s,” Ellis said. “I took my mother down for a show and it was the first time I had ever been to an Elvis show.”
Ellis stopped following the ETAs for a few years, but fell back in with the crowd after her trip to Memphis. It’s Elvis’ generous spirit that keeps drawing people back to him, she thinks.
Followed him for a few years, got out of it for a while until 2012 when she first went to Memphis.
“Of course he was good looking and an awesome singer,” Ellis said. “He would give cars to people he didn’t even know and then the charities that he gave to. I think that’s what draws people to him more than anything.”
He was born in Tupelo, Miss. and had an impoverished background, not coming into money until he started in the music and movie business.
With Elvis gone, having died on Aug. 16, 1977, the ETAs perform to keep his memory alive.
They also keep giving back, the way that Elvis would have. Ellis wanted to carry on that tradition and chose St. Jude because of the ties the legendary singer had to the hospital. She says that the previous concerts have averaged about $3,000 per show, which has all been donated to the hospital. This year, the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ death, she will travel to Memphis to personally deliver the check to St. Jude.
The one change Ellis has made this year is to adjust the start time to 1 to 5 p.m.
“I’ve never had it during the day,” Ellis said. “I’m hoping having it during the day, it will give the older crowd a chance to come out.”
Elvis brings people together
This year will also feature local author and Culpeper Media Network personality Mark O’Connell.
O’Connell has a unique tie to the concerts – as the one in 2014 at the State Theatre turned out to be the first date for him and his wife Diana – the Commonwealth Attorney for Orange County.
O’Connell laughs about how the arrangement came about, remembering that he ran into Ellis outside of the Orange County Courthouse putting flyers on people’s cars. He was working as a probation officer at the time and had a 1:30 p.m. appointment on the docket.
Ellis asked if he would attend the Elvis concert, but O’Connell scoffed at first, until learning that his future wife was going and had an extra ticket.
“So Donna and I sort of conspired, I had to be back in court at 1:30, so I told Donna to go tell Diana that you invited me and I’ll know by her demeanor whether she said yes or no,” O’Connell recalled with a chuckle. “I knew things were going well because Dianna sat next to me and said ‘I heard you want to go to the Elvis concert.’ Though we went as friends, that really turned out to be our first date.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
The couple married on April 25, 2015 – just in time to attend the Elvis concert again.
This year, Ellis approached O’Connell about being the MC and he quickly accepted. Despite not being interested originally, the ETAs that first night in 2014 changed his mind quickly.
“I really enjoyed it,” O’Connell said. “I was a little surprised. I was never a really big Elvis fan, I had family members who were. I watched these guys before and they are so good about what they do.”
It also helps that the concert raises funds for St. Jude.
“I do have a heart for kids,” O’Connell said. “Nobody wants to see kids suffer. It tells me a lot about Elvis and Danny (Thomas, founder of St. Jude’s) that they always wanted to do something for kids.”
Ellis encourages everyone to come to help donate and to enjoy the memories of Elvis.
“When you you see these Elvis tribute artists in concert, they are so dedicated to what they do, it’s the next closest thing to seeing Elvis,” O’Connell said.
Want to go?
What: Memories of Elvis with Classic Country
When: July 29, 1 to 5 p.m.
Where: Orange County High School
Cost: $15 per ticket, all proceeds go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital