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'Man who invented rock 'n' roll' dies at 80

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 31, 2003

MEMPHIS - Sam Phillips, who discovered Elvis Presley and helped usher in the rock 'n' roll revolution, died Wednesday. He was 80.

Phillips died at St. Francis Hospital, spokeswoman Gwendolyn McClain said. No details were available about the cause of death or how long he had been hospitalized.

Phillips founded Sun Records in Memphis in 1952 and helped launch the career of Presley, then a young singer who had moved from Tupelo, Miss.

He produced Presley's first record, the 1954 single that featured That's All Right, Mama and Blue Moon of Kentucky.

"God only knows that we didn't know it would have the response that it would have," Phillips said in an interview in 1997.

Phillips was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

In 2000, the A&E cable network ran a two-hour biography called Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll.

By 1956, when Phillips sold Presley's contract to RCA for $35,000, the rock 'n' roll craze had become a cultural phenomenon and a multimillion-dollar industry.

Phillips began in music as a radio station engineer and later as a disc jockey. He started Sun Records so he could record both rhythm & blues singers and country performers, then called country and western or hillbilly singers.

In the early days, before Presley, Phillips worked mostly with black musicians, including B.B. King and Rufus Thomas.

After the success of Presley on Sun, others who recorded for the label under Phillips included Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty and Charlie Rich.

He got out of the recording business in 1962 and sold Sun Records in 1969 to producer Shelby Singleton of Nashville. The Sun studio on Union Avenue in Memphis still exists as a tourist attraction.

In his later years, Phillips spent much of his time overseeing radio station WLVS in Memphis and others in Alabama. He stayed out of the limelight except for some appearances at Presley-related events after Presley's death.

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