by Lola Rossi-Meza
Manny Lopez goes to Graceland during Elvis Week 2012.
Musician, band leader, RCA recording artist and nightclub owner, Manny Lopez, has been performing since the early 1950s. He was recognized as the “King of the Cha-Cha-Cha” in the early 1960s when the popularity of the dance became a phenomenon. “I worked in so many places, I can’t remember them all,” said Lopez. “…like the Capri Club on 4th and La Cienega, Club Baion, The Palladium and The Garden of Allah on Sunset Boulevard, just to name a few.” The venues he and his band, the Manny Lopez Quintet, performed in, soon became hot nightspots for the young Hollywood stars and starlets who were beginning to make their mark in the movie business.
Signing with RCA Victor records in 1957, Lopez recorded two albums for that label and with the release of his first album, “Cha-Cha-Cha, If You Please” a worldwide audience began to take notice. While performing one evening in LA, he was asked to make an appearance in an up-coming movie. Who would have ever known this modest Mexican-American would meet “The King” himself, Elvis Presley? In 1962, not only was he asked to make an appearance in the movie, “Fun In Acapulco”, Lopez was asked to coach Elvis Presley on how to play and sing in Spanish for the movie being filmed in Mexico.
“Elvis was a really nice guy. We had a lot of fun and he was very dedicated to learning the songs,” Lopez stated. “I remember we had only three days to rehearse. We only spent about two or three hours each day working on the song ‘Guadalajara’ but on third day, before we started, Elvis said to me, ‘Let me try singing it on my own, Manny, I think I got it.’ …and he started singing the song and he did a great job.” In the movie, you can see Lopez playing the Brazilian maracas in the scene where Elvis sings “Bossa Nova Baby” set outside in the nightclub in Acapulco. In fact, if you look on the cover of the VHS or DVD, that’s Lopez on the left of Elvis and band member Francisco “Chico” Guerrero on the right.
With meeting Elvis so early in his career, it is very exciting for Lopez to be invited to Elvis Week 2012, being held in Memphis, Tennessee. He will be interviewed by Tom Brown, the vice president of original productions for Turner Classic Movies, on the Main Stage at the Entertainment Pavilion, across from Graceland, on Sunday, August 12 at 1 p.m. He along with Mary Ann Mobley, Jan Shepard and Chris Noel, to name a few, are part of the event called “Conversations on Elvis – Elvis in the Movies.” Please visit www.ElvisWeek.com for a schedule of the festivities starting on Friday, August 10 through Saturday, August 18, 2012.
In a telephone interview with Sue Lorenz, she said, “Elvis Presley Enterprises does an incredible job putting on this event. This year will mark the 35th anniversary of his death on August 16, 1977. Many of his fans from all over the world will be there.” Along with help from the Viva Las Vegas Elvis Fan Club, Lorenz organized “A Star for Elvis” that was dedicated on September 26, 2008 located in front of the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. “Fans from all over the United States, Canada, Europe and Brazil, helped raise $15,000 in six months to sponsor the star. It was a labor of love. Every year we have a candle-light vigil in his honor on the evening before his death.”
On a personal note, thanks to a photograph I took of jazz pianist Andy Fraga Sr.’s star on Palm Canyon for his CD project – which was later used for a framed star replica in honor of singer Bobby Milano given to Tony Perneste – I now produce all the star replicas for the Palm Springs, Las Vegas and Anaheim Walk of Stars. Lorenz personally brought the Elvis Presley star replica to Graceland. It hangs in the Trophy Room. Even though Elvis Presley Enterprises has never acknowledged the star in Las Vegas, nor all the hard work and determination of the fans involved with a simple “Thank You” note, I believe Elvis is looking down with a smile saying, “Thank you. Thank you very much!”