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Kevin Booth to sing gospel tunes at Valentine's Day event

February 07, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Elvis tribute artist Kevin Booth of Martinsburg, W.Va., left, rocked the house at Girls Inc. in 2012 for a Valentine's Day Elvis concert and received a kiss on the cheek from Anna Laub, right, of Hagerstown.
Herald-Mail file photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — It's not just the millions of records he sold or the movies he made that rendered Elvis Presley immortal.

His legend also lives on through the performances of tribute artists who try to capture the music icon's aura.

Clad in leather jackets and jewel-studded jumpsuits, they curl their lips and shake a leg, wooing the faithful who show up at banquets, nightclubs and even churches to catch a glimpse of the faux King.

It's almost as if Elvis has never left the building.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Mr. Presley must be very pleased.

When he died in 1977, it is estimated that there were less than 40 people who professionally imitated the superstar. Today, there are more than 35,000.

Among them is Kevin Booth of Martinsburg, who made his first public appearance as Elvis when he was 12 years old.

Booth can trace his interest in Elvis back to the age of 5, when he heard the song, "Burning Love."

"Not long after that, I saw Elvis perform on a rerun of his television special, ‘Elvis — Aloha from Hawaii,'" Booth said. "I remember him wearing the Eagle jumpsuit with a cape and I thought he was like a singing superhero."

Booth knew immediately that he wanted to follow in Elvis' footsteps.

"Elvis was definitely my inspiration," he said. "I spent all my time learning his records by heart and practicing in my bedroom."

Booth began singing for family and friends. When he was 12, he  performed at an Elvis Fan Club event in Glen Burnie, Md.

"After that first time of hearing the cheer of an audience, I was hooked," he recalled.

Today, at the age of 42, not much has changed.

Booth still loves Elvis, still performs his music and still loves the thrill of singing before an appreciative audience.

But it hasn't been all Elvis, all of the time.

"I was in the country music industry for around 15 years and recorded my own music," he noted. "I had a top-10 hit in Europe with a song called 'Heartbreak Beach,' and had the chance to work with country artists like Brad Paisley, Phil Vasser, Ronnie McDowell and others. Through the courtesy of my two friends and fellow country artists Maria Rose and Danny Elswick, I was invited to perform with them on two USO Tours to Thule Air Force Base in Greenland."

But, eventually, he found his niche with Elvis' music.

Booth said he has performed at a variety of venues, from concerts and corporate events to carnivals and parties.

He also has been involved in a number of fundraisers, including "Celebrate The King For a Cause," a benefit that he started four years ago with his friend Tim McCoy. The first show benefited the American Cancer Society, while event proceeds from the past three years have gone to the Parent-Child Center.

"We thought that a fundraiser in Elvis' name would be a great thing, as he was an incredibly generous person," Booth said. 

On Thursday, Booth will present a Valentine's Day performance at the Senior Center at Girls Inc. in Hagerstown. The show will be from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and is open to individuals 55 years of age and older.

Booth isn't surprised that Elvis' music has remained popular over the decades.

"His music is timeless," he said. "He was so versatile. He is known as the King of Rock 'n' Roll, but he also sang country, gospel, blues and rhythm and blues. His sound was so far ahead of its time. His music sounds as fresh today as it did when he originally recorded it. I do believe, though, that his charisma was incredible and still draws a whole new generation of fans to him today."

Booth said he credits the Elvis Presley estate for keeping his image and music alive and relevant.

"His fan base goes from very young to very old," he noted. "It's not going away anytime soon. It was John Lennon who said, 'Before Elvis, there was nothing. If it had not been for Elvis, there would never had been the Beatles.'"

In addition to Elvis, Booth said he performs music from Conway Twitty, "who also was an inspiration to me growing up."

People who attend his shows are entertained and educated, Booth said. 

Music is interspersed with "stories about both Elvis' and Twitty's incredible careers, and how Elvis changed music and popular culture forever."

Booth said Elvis knew of his tribute artists before he died and was flattered.

"Today, I think he would be very surprised and honored that he is still being remembered this way so many years after his death," he added.

Booth said his wife, BillieJo, also is a big Elvis fan — so much so, that the couple got married at Graceland, Elvis' Memphis home, on Aug. 18, 2007.

"It was actually her idea," Booth shared. "She was not a huge Elvis fan when we met; but after taking a trip to Graceland together and learning and experiencing his music while we were dating, she became a big fan. She came to me one day and said, 'Why don't we get married at the Chapel in the Woods at Graceland, which is adjacent to Elvis' home? About a year later, our dream came true and, in the presence of family and close friends, we were married there. It was an unbelievable experience — a very moving and respectable ceremony."

Booth said he is recording his own music again and is embarking on a new career in gospel music.

"I feel God is calling me to use the talents he gave me for his work," he said.

And once again, Booth is finding inspiration from Elvis.

"Elvis' first dream was to be a gospel singer," Booth noted. "He loved God and gospel music. He spent most of his downtime singing gospel with his friends. He said that it set his mind at ease. And, Elvis won only three Grammy awards during his career. All three were for gospel music. He also is in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame for his contributions to gospel music. If Elvis were here with me, I think he would tell me, —  Kevin, thank you for what you have done to honor my memory. But if you really want to honor me, do what I always wanted to do. Sing to the glory of God."




If you go
WHAT: Valentine's Day performance by Kevin Booth, singing gospel and love songs from Elvis and Conway Twitty

WHEN: 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14

WHERE: Senior Center at Girls Inc., 626 Washington Ave., Hagerstown

COST: $5 donation fee. The show is open to those 55 and older

CONTACT: Call the senior center, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at 301-671-2368.

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