A King's Tale


Anita Wood Brewer has had the privilege of experiencing two varieties of Mississippi royalty, music and sports, and continues as the queen of her house in Vicksburg in the life carved out by her and her family.

A talent in her own right, Wood caught the eye of both the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, who she dated for five years, and eventually went onto marry Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Johnny Brewer. She was married to Brewer for 46 happy years.

Wood had undeniable talent and experienced several years of success but was not particularly interested in the lime light and was coaxed into performance by her mother.

“I didn’t really like entertainment, never liked it much. I wanted to be a wife and mother, but my mom got me into a competition when I was twelve and I won,” Wood said on a recent visit to see her son at Rosa Scott.

Her son, Rosa Scott Principal Sean Brewer, said that while music was never the focus in his household, his moms voice would punctuate various moments from church choir performances to groggy Monday mornings before school. 

“Mom has always been more of an introvert. I don’t think she really enjoyed the spotlight,” principal Brewer said. “But we knew she could sing. She had a ‘wake up’ song she would sing us every morning that I learned to hate and she sang in church in the choir for a long time and always got requests to do solos.”

Wood was born in Bells, Tenn., in 1937 to W.A. and Dorothy Wood. Singing at home became competitions which became a career. Wood recorded with ABC-Paramount in 1958, Sun in 1961 and Santo in 1963. Some of her hit songs include “I’ll Wait Forever”, “I Cant Show How I feel” and “This has Happened Before,” and “Crying in the Chapel.”

When she met Elvis, and eventually his entourage known as the Memphis Mafia, she co-hosted the Top Ten Dance Party on WHPQ in Memphis, a popular Saturday afternoon dance show where she played music, interviewed kids, danced some, and did commercials.

For all his brash dance moves and fame Elvis was often a shy and private person. A fan of the show, he had Lamar Fike, a noted member of Elvis’ crew, call her and ask her out.

This was 1957, a year before Elvis broke out in 1956, but Wood said she already had plans.

“He called and said that Elvis wanted to see me that night, I already had a date that night and said I simply couldn’t do Jimmy Omar like that,” Wood remembered.

Fike was furious.

“I told him I’m sorry, but Elvis would not want me to break a date with him,” Wood said.

This would not be the last time Wood would receive petitions from the King.

A few weeks later, Fike called again, this time Wood’s schedule was wide open.

Elvis arrived in the back of one of his cars and sent a buddy to the door to retrieve Wood. At the time, Wood lived in a house where several girls rented rooms from a woman she calls Miss Patty.

“She said ‘no way, he has to come to the door himself,’” She remembered. “He was so polite. He came in met Miss Patty and some of the girls. I remember he was wearing his captain’s hat and a big puffy red velvet shirt.”

“Miss Patty told him  not to keep me out too late but of course it was. If you wanted to hang out with Elvis, you had to do it late.”

Elvis was a notorious night Owl, often starting his days late in the afternoon and spending long nights at his piano in his Graceland home entertaining friends. 

“He was very, very talented,” she remembered. “ He could hear anything and quickly figure out how to play it, read most anything and remember it, but he pretty much only performed in private for friends at the piano.”

On her trip to Rosa Scott, Wood also met a woman that was around Elvis and his mafia at the same time. Carolyn Chambers Martin, of Madison,  who dated Allen Fordice, one of Elvis’ trusted bodyguards. Though Wood and Chambers rarely if ever interacted, Wood had fond memories of Fordice.

“Oh, I always liked Allen,” Wood said when she was introduced to Martin.

Martin was from memphis and grew up “two or three” blocks away form where Elvis lived, before he moved into his famed Graceland estate.

“I am not sure when I met him. He was always around,” Martin said, with a laugh.

She has a treasure trove of cherished pictures and artifacts from her time with Elvis and company including an expired drivers license and a picture of Elvis making an appearance at a school dance she attended,

There was always fun around Elvis. He offered rides on his motorcycle, which Martin declined, but Woods was more than happy to accept.

“Momma, thats different than what you told me when i wanted a motorcycle,” Brewer said with a laugh.

Other mainstays included parties at Graceland packed with 75 to 100 people, dinners at the now defunct Chenault’s in a private dining room and movies at the Malco and Memphian theaters, where Elvis and Anita were always given space in the front row. Carolyn was recruited to deliver letters for and to Elvis.

Due to her petit frame, Elvis gave her the nickname “Little.” She was around for the first five explosive years of Elvis recording, performing and film career and saw such milestones as Elvis joining the Army and the death of his mother.

Wood had also originally signed a contract to work for Paramount pictures as an actress, but gave it up for Elvis.

“I he did not like me performing, he was very jealous of me,” Wood said. “I don’t why, he had no reason to be.”

Her relationship with Elvis would ultimately end over who would famously become his wife Priscilla Wagner. In her daughter, Jonnita’s book “Once Upon a Time: Elvis and Anita,” an excerpt tells the story of the night Wood had enough. 

She heard Elvis in the kitchen telling his father, Vernon, that he did not know what to do. Elvis could not make a decision between Anita and Priscilla. 

“I’ll make it for you,” Wood said revealing herself.

After her time with Elvis she soon met Johnny Brewer, the gruff straight faced tight end and linebacker at Ole Miss and later on a Championship Cleveland Browns team and a New Orleans Saints squad for a while. All sad he had a nine year professional career and was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, seven years before his death.

They had three children, Jonnita, Sean, and John, and settled in Vicksburg, where Anita lives now, in the early seventies. With Brewer she had finally reached her goal of becoming a mother.

Brewer, who had a football career of his own that included leading Milsaps to a conference championship and a hall of fame induction of his own, said his parents could not be any more different but said they were both very supportive in their own way. He said there was no pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“They were just opposites in so many ways and it really proved that opposites attract,” Brewer said. “Dad never emphasized anything whether it was his profession selling insurance or his career in football. We were always encouraged to pursue what we were interested in and do what we wanted to do.”

On the subject of having two famous parents he said he may have initially taken it for granted, but began to appreciate that stories he had heard “a million times” were not the common experience of his friends.

“Dad had first-hand stories of being on the field with Staubach, Bart Starr, Jim Brown. He sparred with Rocky Marciano and met John Wayne and Richard Nixon and mom has been on Larry King and fielded calls from the BBC. Looking back I have really learned to cherish those stories,” Brewer said. “People were always approaching my parents.”

Wood would see Elvis one more time, in a hotel in Las Vegas in 1969, when Anita and Elvis were both parents. After a show where Elvis had gotten her a front row seat, she remembers Elvis inviting her backstage when the show was over. 

He asked Anita if they made the right decision the night she left. 

Anita replied, “If it hadn’t happened that way, you wouldn’t have your little Lisa Marie, and I wouldn’t have my Jonnita and John. (Sean wasn’t born yet.) So, I have to think that it all worked out for the best. That had to be what God planned for us, because we wouldn’t have them otherwise.”

Anita recalls Elvis looking back at her for a few moments before he finally responded, “I guess you are right.”