A black pompadour, swinging hips and rhinestone jumpsuits are all the hallmarks of Elvis Presley. You can experience them in person at the Rotary Club of James City County’s “Elvis Genre Concert” featuring an Elvis tribute performance by Charlie Dunn.
Sue Harmon, chairwoman of the Summer Concert Series, said the performances benefit four charities: the Arc, Grove Christian Outreach, Literacy for Life and The Williamsburg House of Mercy. Harmon said last year, the concerts raised $32,000.
“It’s a great opportunity to help out,” Dunn said. “I just thought it would be great to give back.”
Dunn said he began performing as Elvis Presley in 1992, but started doing shows regularly in 1998 when he got involved with an Elvis Festival in Virginia Beach. Dunn said he’s performed everywhere from weddings and parties to Elvis conventions in Las Vegas and Baltimore.
“That was just amazing, but I don’t know how many thousand people were in the audience, but it was just a very unique opportunity,” Dunn said.
Karen Sublett, who hired Dunn to play at her birthday for nine years, said she met Elvis when he was alive and watched Elvis tribute performances across the country.
“And Charlie is the best since Elvis I have ever seen. Just his manner, his singing, just everything comes across just like Elvis.”
Dunn said he loves interpreting Elvis because he was a charismatic performer. He said he didn’t truly realize the impact his music had on people until he q started performing as Presley.
“I thought, I’m not the real Elvis and I’m getting this kind of reaction. And I think it’s great if I can bring people joy through my performances — that’s what I love doing.”
Dunn refers to himself as an Elvis tribute performer, because he views his performances as a way to honor Presley’s legacy.
“I think when you look at the term Elvis impersonator, there’s a negative connotation with it I see sometimes because … there are some individuals who are doing it just for fun, and then some people actually think they’re Elvis,” Dunn said. “I do it to pay tribute to a great performer.”
After all these years, he said his pre-performance routine is second nature. Dunn said it’s crucial he does vocal warm-ups and physical stretches before each show.
“If you’ve ever seen an Elvis show, you realize how physical he was as a performer, so it may sound kind of funny, but I take that very seriously,” Dunn said
Another important aspect is making sure he looks the part of the King.
“The big thing I like are the outfits of his, and they’re so just true to the Elvis outfit (because) he buys them from where Elvis' were made,” Sublett said.
“I’ve amassed quite a few jumpsuits and costumes throughout the years from the 1950s-70s, so that’s been kind of fun,” Dunn said. “It can be expensive though.”
Even though he performs tributes to other musicians such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Elvis is still Dunn’s favorite because people of all ages enjoy the music. For example, when Dunn performed at 2nd Sundays, he said people ages 2 to 82 stopped to watch him.
“I can come out there and do his song and people still know the music and they recognize it,” he said. “Movies like ‘Lilo & Stitch’ help keep that alive, and it’s just fascinating to me because I’m surprised the kids enjoy it as much as they do, I think it’s neat. I think it’s a testimony to the impact Elvis has made.”
Want to go?
The Rotary Club of James City County’s Summer Concert Series’ “Elvis Genre Concert” is 7:30 p.m. July 20, Kimball Theatre, 428 W. Duke of Gloucester St. Tickets are $25; purchase at eventbrite.com.
Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.