Joe Guercio, Elvis Presley’s Orchestra Leader, Dead at 87

Also Worked With Patti Page, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Gladys Knight

Joe Guercio, Elvis Presley’s musical director and conductor from 1970 until Presley’s death in 1977, died Sunday (Jan. 4) in a Nashville hospice at the age of 87.

Guercio, a native of Buffalo, New York, was born July 16, 1927. His first high-profile music gig was working as an accompanist for Patti Page. He subsequently served as musical director for Diana Ross, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Florence Henderson, Jim Nabors and Diahann Carroll, among others.

His arrangements of “Sweet Inspiration/Where You Lead” and of “The Way We Were/Try to Remember” helped create hits, respectively, for Barbra Streisand and Gladys Knight.

Guercio was musical director for the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas when he began his association with Presley. One of his earliest triumphs with the superstar — and one he remembered fondly in interviews — was leading the orchestra in the historic Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite special in 1973 that aired live in more than 40 countries in Europe and Asia.

He is also credited with creating the iconic six-note theme that heralded Presley’s entrance onstage. Starting in 1997, Guercio became orchestra leader for the stage spectacular Elvis: The Concert, a touring production that featured Presley’s recorded voice and image backed by live musicians. It was a concept Guercio helped conceive as well.

During his later years in Nashville, Guercio designed stage shows for a number of aspiring artists. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.