The Lore Of Elvis Presley’s White Knabe
In his formative years, before rock ‘n’ roll surged through his legs and hips on the Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis Aaron Presley sat in the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis Tennessee, watching Jack Marshall play soulfully on the house piano—a Wm. Knabe & Co. grand.
A poor young teenager living in public housing, Elvis often attended the Gospel “Sings” that took place there. He and his mother both loved that type of music; they attended the First Assembly of God Church where the Blackwood Brothers were based. On the nights that Elvis couldn’t get a job selling sodas at Ellis to earn admittance and didn’t have the pocket change, he could usually count on the Blackwoods to let him sneak in through the back door. He would sit in the audience […] and dream of the day he might perform on that very stage.Description from Heritage Auctions 2
As fate would have it, Elvis went on to perform at Ellis himself.
The Knabe remained in use as the auditorium’s house piano from the 1930s until 1957; at which point Jack Marshall of Marshall Music purchased it. Shortly thereafter, it came into the hands of Elvis who had the Memphis man refurbish and customize the piano. Marshall painted it white with gold trim with a matching bench made of a vinyl cushion and gold-colored metal legs. The instrument remained in Elvis’ music room at Graceland from 1957 to 1969, until his wife Priscilla bought him a new gold piano as an anniversary present.
The piano was then stored until 1976, before Elvis’s father Vernon Presley sold it to Ted Sturges, a local recording studio owner. For five years, the Knabe served to record some 50 albums until 1981 when it was sold to Jimmy Velvet, a close friend of Elvis. Velvet had opened a museum dedicated to Elvis memorabilia and displayed the piano there until 1990, after which it was sold to a private collector.
In 2003, Michael Muzio of Blue Moon Group Inc. acquired the piano for $685,000, which had, in the hands of C.B. Coltharp, undergone a year and a half’s work of restorations.
In 2010 this piano went up for auction by Heritage Auctions and was thought to fetch upwards of a million dollars—but the piano did not sell.
In March of 2014, The Dina Collection posted a blog offering the piano for sale.
Currently, attempts at finding a suitable home for the piano have remained either unrealized or unpublicized.