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Elvis’s gold piano takes its place in Hard Rock Tampa history

TAMPA — Elvis may not be in the building, but his piano graces the new atrium at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa.

The glitzy 24-karat gold leaf piano is the centerpiece of the property’s elegant new grand entrance and was unveiled July 11 in a ceremony just off the casino floor.

Tribal members, Council, Presley’s bandleader and guitarist James Burton, members of the media and casino patrons gathered in the marble floored atrium, which is surrounded by two curving escalators leading to the mezzanine level.

Adding to the unique quality of the space are an eye-catching multistory chandelier resembling a cascade of piano keys, beaded walls which mimic piano keys and a lyric from an Elvis song: “I just can’t miss with a good luck charm like you.”

The atrium is clearly fit for the “King of Rock and Roll.”

Andy Buster talks to Rock & Roll Hall of Famer James Burton, Elvis Presley’s bandleader and lead guitarist, after he signed Buster’s guitar during Presley’s gold piano unveiling at Hard Rock in Tampa. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“It’s been over two years of construction,” Jim Allen, Hard Rock International chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO, said referring to the renovations to the entire property. “With the new finishes, this product can compete with anything in the U.S.”

Casino patrons keep the machines busy all hours of the night and day, seemingly oblivious to the construction that continues behind temporary walls.

The grand opening is scheduled for Oct. 3.

“Back in the ‘80s we needed to find a track for tourism here to build revenue,” said President Mitchell Cypress. “So we built an alligator pit. Today we’ve accomplished a lot.”

The Tampa property is in the midst of a $700 million expansion that includes a 14-story hotel tower, three pools on a deck the size of a football field, an event center and a lot more gaming space. When the property opens, it will feature approximately 800 hotel rooms and suites, a 245,000-square- foot casino and a

17,000-square-foot Hard Rock Event Center that can be configured for concerts, conventions and private events. Country superstar Keith Urban will open the event center with a concert October 4.

Elvis Presley’s gold piano graces the atrium at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa. The instrument, which sits on a marble platform under a free-form chandelier resembling a cascade of piano keys, was unveiled to much fanfare July 11. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“There used to be little village on this place,” said Brighton Councilman Larry Howard. “It humbles us to see the fruits of our labor. For something that looks this great, there was a lot of hard work and dedication.”

Elvis Presley bought the 1928 W.W. Kimball grand piano for his mother in 1955. Since it didn’t fit in her apartment, Presley put it in his home on Audubon Drive in Memphis.

After his mother’s death in 1958, the piano was put in storage. For their first anniversary in 1968, his wife Priscilla had the piano festooned with 24-karat gold-leaf.

The piano was a fixture in the music room at Graceland until Presley’s death in 1977. Since then, it had been on display at Graceland and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

Hard Rock International acquired the piano in 2015; it was the company’s 80,000th piece of memorabilia.

Burton, who led Presley’s TCB Band (Taking Care of Business) from 1969 until the King’s death in 1977 attended the unveiling.

He was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, was recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Musicians Hall of Fame and was a member of the Wrecking Crew, the famed Los Angeles group of session musicians.

“Elvis would play the piano for his mom for hours,” said Burton, 79. “In Graceland, the piano was in the front room with all the trophies.”
Burton said he didn’t play the piano.

Ruby Thomas, Bobby Henry, Sally Tommie, Annie Henry and Joanie Henry pose in front of the piano. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“It was too heavy to carry around so I played guitar,” he said with a smile.

The piano is flanked by two Gibson guitars, a 1957 J-200 acoustic played by Presley in the movie “Elvis and Me” and a Dove played by the King in the mid-1970s.

Andy Buster brought his own 25-plus year old Gibson J-200 to the unveiling which Burton graciously signed for him.

The stunning gold piano sits on a marble base surrounded by gold stanchions. Allen said there are plenty of people who would like to play the iconic instrument.

“We reached out to Presley’s estate and it will have to be someone who respects the history of Elvis,” Allen said. “One of the things we are proud of is when an artist gives us memorabilia we make sure it is respected. We are the curators of the pieces.”

Hard Rock is talking to an A-list artist about playing the piano, which won’t be moved from its perch in the atrium. Allen said they are trying to make it happen and if it does, virtually “everyone” will know the artist.

From left, President Mitchell Cypress, Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, Big Cypress Councilman David Cypress, CEO of Seminole Gaming and Chairman of Hard Rock International Jim Allen, Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. and Brighton Councilman Larry Howard pose in front of Elvis Presley’s 24-karat gold leaf piano in the grand entrance of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa (Beverly Bidney)

“We’re upping our game with the piano,” said Steve Bonner, president, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa. “The elegance we’ve created here while bringing back the music theme and the other things make us a total resort.”

Before the barrier walls were moved aside to reveal the piano, Council members spoke about the day’s milestone.

“It takes a great vision and a great team to execute the plans here and in Hollywood,” said Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola. “We’ve come a long way.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at