Double life of modern day Elvis

Vegas themed First Friday invites tribute artist to share passion

Alex Moore, Copy Editor

A man dressed as Elvis sings on a stage
Calvin Quisumbing
Elvis tribute artist Robbie Dee and band performing during their first set of the winter quarter First Friday.

Robbie Dee never guessed he would be a stage performer.

Nor did he guess that singing in front of an audience of college students while wearing a rhinestone encrusted jumpsuit and a bouncy black wig would be a normal part of his life.

Even after being a professional Elvis Presley tribute artist for five years, Dee noted that he remains in disbelief about his career.

 “I still consider myself more of a fan than a singer, a performer,” Dee said.

Dee, a sales manager in his thirties, embodied “the king” of rock and roll at Seattle Pacific University Friday, Jan. 10 for the Student Union Board’s Winter 2020 “Fabulous First Friday.”

This was the first time that a First Friday event included live performances as a main attraction, adding to the Las-Vegas-inspired theme.

The Main Gym at Royal Brougham Pavilion was transformed into a pop-up casino  complete with poker tables, a VIP “mocktail” lounge and ambient aerial acrobats spinning on 30 foot silks.

The usually fluorescent and shiny gymnasium was made classy with dim lighting, a gold and silver color scheme and an optional dress code which led to the majority of students in attendance to be decked in ties and heels. 

A Elvis tribute artist puts on makeup in a mirror.
Calvin Quisumbing
Elvis tribute artist Robbie Dee putting on the finishing touches for his costume.

The theme was carried throughout the large gym and Dee’s singing rang throughout the space, enhancing the illusion that students had been transported for the night to a ritsy spot on the Las Vegas strip.

“It’s really kind of a dream come true to get to share something like that that I love with Elvis fans and the general public,” Dee said. 

After winning first place at the 2015 Seattle Elvis Invitationals, an annual amateur Elvis impersonation contest, Dee’s career as an Elvis tribute artist took off.

“I would sing along with the Elvis music when I would hear it, as I would do with other stuff but I didn’t really think much of it,” Dee said, recalling how when he was a teenager, his family told him that his voice resembled Presley’s.

He made his debut on a public stage at a karaoke night. Egged on by his friends, Dee nervously sang “Viva Las Vegas,” expecting nothing more than average approval from his fellow karaoke-goers.

Instead, Dee was met with rapturous applause — a feeling that stayed on his mind from that day forward.

“People really liked it, so it was really fun. And then I didn’t do it again for a while, but I always had it in the back of my mind,” Dee said.

In 2013, Dee’s impression of Presley was heard by a Seattle Elvis Invitationals organizer when he spontaneously sang as part of an Elvis tribute exhibit at Bumbershoot, a Seattle music festival.

The exhibit had Elvis-themed art and memorabilia, but it was also a small karaoke stage. Working up the nerve once again, Dee waited for people to trickle out of the exhibit until only one audience member remained.

After singing one song, Dee was stopped on his way out by his sole listener, who happened to be one of the impersonation contest organizers. She invited him to participate in that year’s Invitational.

At his first contest, Dee was just as excited to meet other fans and tribute artist as he was to compete.

After that first serious performance in his home-made jumpsuit, Dee was hooked.

An Elvis tribute artist puts on makeup and prepares to put on a wig.
Calvin Quisumbing
Elvis tribute artist Robbie Dee, applying makeup and getting ready for the show

He returned the next year, in 2014, and won third place.

In 2015, he became the best Elvis tribute artist in the Seattle-Tacoma area, and he now travels with a full band to share his talent with all sorts of audiences.

“I do a lot more eightieth birthday parties than fortieth birthday parties, but … it really varies.”

Dee cherishes the fact that his most popular audiences come from older generations. 

After his regular performances at retirement homes, Dee is often approached by listeners who were quiet during the show, but eagerly inform him afterward how they were reminded of beloved, and sometimes forgotten memories.

“People associate a lot of things with music,” Dee said.

Off stage, Dee is reserved. Although he wears a baseball cap and a t-shirt both emblazoned with his flashy logo, Dee is otherwise unassuming.

Dee lives with his wife in Everett, Washington and works a day job as an advertising sales manager at the Seattle Times. While most of the people in his life know that he spends an unexpected amount of time impersonating a deceased entertainer, it is not something he flaunts; although he is proud.

“I guess it used to be a little more private, but enough people know now,” he said. “It’s kind of a funny thing to talk about because it surprises a lot of people,” Dee said.

He still pinches himself often and thinks back to the burgeoning young fan he once was.

“I still get nervous before every time I go up there.”