Red Roses for Leister


White County Record, May 15, 2003


inety-year-old Leister E. Presley of Searcy doesn’t claim kin to Elvis but he does have ties to another well-known songwriter and performer. “I don’t have any music about me – but my dad did,” Presley said. With a keen memory and the mannerisms of a southern gentleman, Presley shared precise dates and facts from his childhood.

            Presley’s father was Luther G. Presley, who wrote sacred songs for the Stamps Baxter Company.   In fact, the elder Presley named his son Leister in honor of one of his singing instructors. Offering that tidbit of information, Presley turned the subject to his last name. He wouldn’t even attempt to guess the number of times he has been asked about his kinship to Elvis. “I reckon I’m not,” Presley put the question to rest.

            Leister Presley said his father, who died in 1974, wrote his first song when he was 18. And he anticipates that he wrote more than 1,100 songs. One of his best-known pieces of work, Presley said, is the words to “When the Saints Go Marching In.”   However, Presley said his favorite is “Let Us Give Them Red Roses.” “He wrote that about me,” Presley added. He explained that it was in response to his being a soldier with the 5th Armored Division in Europe during World War II.

            Born in 1887, Presley’s father moved to the Clay area in 1909 to teach music in that school. During the summer months, he farmed. His father married Julia “Maggie” Yingling and they had two sons, Leister and Clarence. His mother died in 1922 during childbirth. “I was only 9 when she died,” he added. He was born August 16, 1912.

            After her death, he and his brother spent most of their time at Granny and Grandpa Yingling’s house, located about one-fourth mile up the road from his father’s farm. “Granny Yingling was something special,” Presley said. “She was more influential in my life than anyone else in the world.”

            After graduating from Pangburn High School, he went into the U.S. Army and served 41 months, 20 overseas. His first “real job,” after being discharged, was at Arkansas Power and Light Company. He worked there for Mid South Gas where he was in charge of a crew that put in main lines and fixed leaks. Later he went to work for Arkansas Louisiana Gas and remained there until his retirement in September 1977. He has been retired for about 25 years.

            “When I started to work we used an old pick and shovel,” Presley said. “It was hard, slow work. But I put in lots of gas lines and welded lots of steel pipe together.”

            He met his wife Cloie in 1946 at church. She was a schoolteacher at Garner. They were married about two years later. His wife in later years became a genealogist, and for several years did family research for the public in their home.   About six years ago she became ill and could no longer do the work. She is also a charter member of the White County Historical Society.

            Perhaps her research inspired her husband to do his own look into the family roots. He enjoys researching his family history and has been doing so for the past 40 years.


            In later years he began collecting his father's work.  The earliest song that Presley discovered to be written by his father was in 1913.  A collection of his  father's songbooks and his wife Cloie's research and records were donated to the University of Central Arkansas at Conway - her alma mater.  vvv