Entertainer keeping King of Rock ‘n’ Roll alive

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The mimicking began as a light-hearted exhibition of self-abasement at the prodding of a friend, but what Brandon Bennett has accomplished in the years since is no joke.

The Ponchatoula native has lived in Chicago the past eight months to ease his commute to the Apollo Theatre, where he stars as Elvis Presley in “Million Dollar Quartet.”

The show, which plays in New York, Chicago and tours around the country simultaneously with different casts, is about a recording session that brought together Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for the first and only time.

Bennett’s duties in the Broadway musical are split evenly between acting and performing, the latter being a talent he’s honed over the past decade and one he intends to share again with Louisianans April 13 at the Pavilion at Cypress Bayou Casino in Charenton.

“I had no intention of it being my career,” the world-renowned Elvis tribute artist says over the phone. “I was in college doing it as a side job, and it just kept snowballing.”

The impersonation of Elvis actually began two years before Bennett enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana University.

A high school classmate, after viewing an Elvis special on television, made Bennett aware that they shared a physical resemblance.

Bennett decided to poke fun at himself, and his mother labored over a homemade jumpsuit that he would wear on 70s day during Homecoming Week at Ponchatoula High.

“I wore it to school that day and just had fun goofing off and taking pictures with everybody,” Bennett says. “Shortly after that, maybe a day or so later, the drama teacher said she was going to put on a sock hop and she wanted me to come dressed as the younger Elvis, so I did that and that’s how I ended up getting in choir.”

Bennett’s grandfather was a music buff, so as a young boy he had strummed and sang along with old Elvis records. Prior to the sock hop, however, he had never performed in front of a crowd. The first day of school after his performance, the choir teacher walked into Bennett’s world history class and coerced him into joining the ensemble.

“It’s what started it all rolling,” he says.

Bennett’s career has taken him to great heights since he formed a band after college and began hitting the national festival and casino circuit.

After winning a satellite competition in Tupelo, Miss., in 2008, he beat out tribute artists from around the world (Japan, England, Australia…) to be named the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist at a Memphis competition. Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. sanctioned the event and the judges were comprised of people who had the pleasure to know and work with The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

“The talent that is among these men is really amazing,” Bennett says. “Tribute artists – there’s kind of a stereotype out there and certainly there’s the people who make it that negative stereotype, but there really are a lot of people out there with great voices and great entertainment abilities.”

From there, Bennett landed a two-year role in “The Elvis Story,” a Broadway-like production staged in Canada. It’s his only international experience, but the 29-year-old has traveled throughout the United States.

He estimates that before settling in Chicago, he probably spent 6 months out of each year in hotels while performing away from home.

Now, he performs eight days a week with the “Million Dollar Quartet,” and says the Windy City has proven to be more enjoyable than he forecasted.

“I’ve been in here Chicago for about eight months and I never thought I would like to live in a city this size, for one thing, especially in a place that gets as cold as it gets here,” Bennett says. “But this is a great city, definitely one of my favorite places I’ve ever been.”

Louisiana raised, Bennett says he also enjoys trips to Branson, Mo., and the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

As far as familiarity is concerned, Las Vegas is near the top of the list. Bennett performed quite a bit at the old Stardust Hotel and Casino, and when it was demolished, he was relocated to a New Orleans-themed resort.

“I spent quite a bit of time out there,” Bennett says. “When my son was young, probably before he was two years old, he had been to Vegas about 20 times.”

While in Louisiana, the Elvis impersonator also performs at his old high school auditorium to raise funds to benefit the football team on April 21. He played center for the team when he was in school. The next day, he leaves with the Elvis Entertainers Network Cruise.

Bennett, who is married and has a 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, says he hasn’t fallen into the trap of trying to live Elvis’ life off the stage.

“When I’m on stage, I’m playing a part and I’m no different than when Kurt Russell played Elvis in the movies,” he says. “For me, it’s easy to turn that off when I step off the stage because certainly I’m not Elvis Presley and don’t pretend to be when I’m off stage. There’s things in my life that I enjoy doing.”

The tribute artist most appreciates (“It’s hard for me to just pick one,” he laments) the Elvis original “If I Can Dream,” which was released for the fist time with Elvis’s ’68 Comeback Special.

Bennett says, for the most part, he prefers Elvis’ 70s music.

Bennett credits his grandfather with laying his musical foundation, the practice of singing along that has taken him to stardom among the sect of Elvis diehards.

He develops his talent with a constant barrage of Elvis, and occasionally playing back his own voice when trying to nail down a song.

“I think being from the South has made it easier on me, to have the natural southern way of talking,” Bennett says. “If I want to learn a song, I listen to it a lot, not just to learn the words but to get the sound in my head of how he’s singing.

“It’s something that I think that just your ear can tune itself to. Just like anybody who’s an impressionist that can do different voices.”

– editor@gumboguide.com

Louisiana-born Elvis Presley tribute artist Brandon Bennett impersonates a time from the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s comeback stage in the late 1960s. Bennett, who first adorned Elvis garb in high school for a joke, has made a career out of keeping Elvis alive.


Brandon Bennett alludes to Elvis’ time in the U.S. Army. During the 1950s, in his prime, Elvis refused to dodge his draft orders.