All of us in the Tourism industry in Missouri mourn the passing of Branson entertainment pioneer Lloyd Presley.
Mr. Presley died Saturday afternoon at the age of 86 after a long illness. His legacy to the entertainment industry, and to the contribution of tourism in Missouri, is to be celebrated. He founded Presley’s Country Jubilee in 1967. It was the first music show on Branson’s Highway 76. Lloyd Presley appeared onstage with his family for more than 40 years.
When Steve and I first moved to the Branson area in 2001, a friend of mine who I had known and worked with in Jefferson City, Dwight Fine, suggested that I look up and introduce myself to a woman who was from Branson. Dwight knew her because she had served on the Missouri Hospital Association Board of Trustees as a former Chairman of the Skaggs Hospital Board of Trustees. He thought we would have much in common. Her name is Raeanne Presley.
I did call her. We met for lunch. She remains one of my closest friends today.
By knowing Raeanne, I learned more about the history of Branson, the live entertainment industry, and the challenges and opportunities in Taney and Stone counties. We compared notes on employee recruitment and retention, on health insurance coverage options for employees (she for the theatre, me for the hotels). We talked about the growth of the area, and the challenges that accompany that growth. She gave me advice about living in a small town, and traded examples about how we and our husbands “Steve” try to balance a healthy family life with a demanding professional life.
She kept her kids in the public schools and we talked about the school system and some of the traditions of the area. I recall asking Raeanne what they did to celebrate Christmas in town (we had moved there in the fall and the holidays were upon us). She informed me of the demands of their performance schedule, sometimes doing three shows a day from Nov. 1 to the middle of December, celebrating the joys of the season, (and one of the communities who celebrates keeping “Christ” in Christmas). Of course, by the time the last performance is over, there is not a thought to the pageantry of Christmas. Instead, their family takes the time to reflect on the success and challenges of the year, and begins planning for the new season as soon as the curtain goes down in December.
Then she told me about the group tour sales efforts that they participate in, and the production changes for the new show and the wardrobe fittings and the lighting changes and the auditions for any new talent, etc. I learned so much from that first luncheon meeting; my education continues today.
I later had a chance to be introduced to the entire Presley family after attending a show with Raeanne. When doing so, I recalled that I had met this family before, on a previous trip to Branson when I served on the House of Representatives Tourism Committee back in the early 1990s. I had attended a tourism commission meeting held in Branson, and had met the “pioneers” of the area at a community reception. I was struck then, as now, with the challenges and opportunities that you would experience being in such a competitive field with generations of your family. For the Presley Family, they worked through those challenges to create a profound legacy that extends far beyond their family tree.
And it all started with Lloyd Presley with the love and support of his wife Bessie Mae. For the first 25 years of the couple’s almost 65-year marriage, the family lived in Springfield. In 1967, Lloyd and Bessie, along with daughters Deanna and Janice, and sons, Gary and Steve, and their families, opened Mountain Music Theatre, which today is called Presley’s Country Jubilee. Fans from around the country, and the world, enjoy their generations on stage performing today.
One of the community events we were honored to attend was when Steve and I joined many fans in the parking lot of their theatre as Lloyd Presley and his family held their 40th anniversary of live performances on June 20, 2007. They were honored by Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, the state legislature, the city of Branson, the Branson Lakes Area Chamber Of Commerce and the Taney County commission. After a picnic celebration, they served cake to all in attendance, and then invited everyone to a special show held for the occasion. Bessie Mae passed away not long after that event.
A kind, caring couple who both loved to fish, Raeanne says of her father-in-law that he is “singing in heaven.” This holy couple is surely enjoying their reunion. May that thought, and the love and support of their family and their many friends and fans, comfort the Presley family during this time.