Thursday, August 16, 2007

Down With the King: Black Folks & Elvis

"Elvis was the king of rock 'n' roll, huh? I guess somebody forgot to tell the folks up in Harlem listening to James Brown" — Black street comedian on 59th Street (circa 1986)"

Elvis Presley was my nigga: forget the fact that on his dying day on August 16th, 1977, the so-called King of Rock 'n' Roll was grossly overweight and popping more pills than a pharmaceutical student. Definitely, it might be best to ignore the oft spoken truths that to this day linger like an unchained melody that define the master of hypnotic hips and unmovable hair as a momma's boy who boned teenaged girls years before R. Kelly was born, munched peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and blasted TV sets in the hallowed hotel rooms above the neon glow of Vegas.

Even if there are many folks that agreed with Brit-author Martin Amis when he wrote, "Elvis was a talented hick destroyed by success", to me he was so much more. Like the other Caucasians in my then-personal canon of pop culture cool (which included Sean Connery, Elton John, Henry Winkler, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood), Elvis had a style, swagger, and charisma that radiated beyond the confines of the television screen.

Though too young to recall the red, white and blue tears people wept when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, or the shattered glass streets of chocolate cities across America when Martin Luther King was slain, the untimely announcement of Elvis' last gasp rocked my world. Having dealt with death only a few times in my then young life (mother's suicidal friend Thomas, grandma's aged boyfriend Joe), I was devastated by the announcement of Elvis' demise. As my first rock idol in the days before I realized that black dudes were supposed to reject Presley on principle, I watched with rabid interest as folks across the country cried while sharing their favorite Elvis memories with the newscaster.

In a Kodak flash, I relived those many late nights when me and baby brother would stay-up past our bedtime just to sneak peeks at the Elvis flicks that were broadcast occasionally in the midnight hour on the CBS Late Movie. From the fury of Jailhouse Rock to the kitsch of Viva Las Vegas to the goofiness of Speedway, we were both enthralled by the manic energy of Elvis. While mom had a monthly subscription to Ebony and Sepia magazines, and had even enrolled us in an after-school class in Black History, we never realized that we could be considered traitors to the race for digging the sounds of a guitar strumming bad boy standing on the hood of a stock car or tonguing down va-va-voom Ann Margret.

Spending the latter part of the summer of '77 at Aunt Ricky's crib in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, where she, Uncle Ed and older cousin Denise were the only brown faces in the community, issues of race were never discussed. With the exception of the peaceful image of M.L.K. on Sunday morning church fans (a constant reminder that a mere few years before, down south brothers and sisters were still sitting in the back of the bus or being bitten by police dogs), there was no talk of integration, race relations or the countless student uprisings that still rumbled in colleges campuses.

In her late-thirtes, Aunt Ricky was a beautiful brown-skinned woman with a wide smile, a thick body (Uncle Ed called her "butterball"), and a voice that had a stern singsong lilt that she used years later for preaching in the pulpit of a various churches in the wilds of Pennsylvania. Dressed in a multicolored housedress, Aunt Ricky leaned back in a brown living-room chair, exhaling heavily. Gazing at my emotional reaction to the news of Elvis' exploding heart, Aunt Ricky unexpectedly dropped a bomb on me. "You know, Elvis was a racist, right?" she declared. Without the hint of a smile, it was obvious she was serious as a bottle of moonshine.

Turning away from the tear stained faces being transmitted from in front of the pearly gates of Graceland, I was puzzled. "You know", Aunt Ricky continued, "he once told a reporter, 'The only thing colored folks can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records.' Now, if that's not racist, you tell me what is". In a low-talking voice that was damn near a Marlon mumble, I said, "That can't be true. Elvis would never say anything like that". Coming from the melting pot of New York City, I had never experienced, at least not to my knowledge, the kind of racism that still simmered on the other side of the George Washington Bridge. Other than a white cop, who had threatened to kick my black ass two years before (admittedly, I did call him a "pig" first, but that is a whole other tale), I had no idea that such strained relationships between the races still existed.

"It's true", Aunt Ricky declared with so much conviction, one would have thought she had been in the room when the venomous words were supposedly uttered. "You know what they say?"

"What's that?" I wondered.

"White is right", she answered. Feeling betrayed by both Elvis and Aunt Ricky, I excused myself from the room. Personally, I didn't want to believe it, but who was I to question the wisdom of a grown-up?

Years later, I wondered why none of the adults in my life ever bothered to school us kids about the early days of black music, when a rowdy Negro named Ike Turner (whose 1951 "Rocket 88" was recorded at Sun Studios a few years before Elvis shuffled through those same doors) was considered the first true rock star. Not once did one of the elders put a copy of Little Richard's "Tutti Fruitti" on the stereo and declare, "This is the true king, kid. Now, bow down".

In his masterful Last Train to Memphis (1994), author Peter Guralnick, cites a piece that appeared in Jet magazine on in 1957: "Tracing that rumored racial slur to its source was like running a gopher to earth." Some said Presley had said it in Boston, which Elvis had never visited. Some said it was on Edward Murrow's show, on which Elvis had never appeared. Jet sent Louie Robinson to the set of "Jailhouse Rock": "When asked if he ever made the remark, Mississippi-born Elvis declared: 'I never said anything like that, and people who know me know I wouldn't have said it".

Robinson then spoke to people "who were in a position to know" and heard from Dr W. A Zuber, "a Negro physician in Tupelo" that Elvis Presley used to "go round to Negro 'sanctified meetings'; from pianist Dudley Brooks that he "faces everybody as a man", and from Presley himself that he had gone to colored churches as a kid, churches like Reverend Brewster's, and that "he could honestly never hope to equal the musical achievements of Fats Domino or the Inkspots' Bill Kenny".

"To Elvis", Jet concluded in its August 1st, issue, "people are people regardless of race, color or creed."

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In 1985, five years before composing his satirical anthem "Elvis is Dead", which featured a cameo from Little Richard, I met Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid. Flipping through the cluttered bins inside Sounds record shop on New York's sleazy St. Marks Place, I recognized the musician's wild styled locks and funky attire from a recent band photo published in the arty magazine East Village Eye.

After introducing myself, we chatted for about 20 minutes about movies, science fiction novels, and of course, music. "What do you do?" Vernon asked.

"Well, besides working at Tower Records, I'm a writer that doesn't write", I confessed.

"Me and some friends have started an organization called The Black Rock Coalition", Vernon said. "We're meeting this Saturday in the Village Voice offices. Perhaps you should come by".

"Yeah," I answered, not really understanding what he could possibility mean; Jimi Hendrix was dead and Sly Stone might as well have been, so what was this strange beast known as Black Rock? With the exception of Prince and the Bad Brains, I thought, how many others of color are doing the wild electric on stage or vinyl. "But, I'm not a musician. The only things I play are records," I said..

Chuckling, Vernon answered, "Don't worry 'bout that. Yeah, it's about the music, but it's also about so much more. We got filmmakers, writers, all kinds of folks. Just come over to the Voice offices about two o'clock or so".

Without a hint of irony, I showed-up at the B.R.C. meeting clad in sneakers, jeans, and a colorful t-shirt of Elvis' face superimposed on a Confederate flag. Standing on lower Broadway outside the newspaper offices with a collective of folks, I was uncomfortable. Feeling less bohemian than the rest of the bunch, I leaned against the wall and waited until it was time to file into the building.

A soulful clique of spirited people who would have a major influence over a generation of new jack artists developing their own personal cult-nat-freaky-deke-nu-blax-aesthetic, gathered on the sidewalk. The tribe included cultural critic Greg Tate, bluesman Michael Hill, trumpet player Flip Barnes, poet Tracie Morris, singer Cassandra Wilson, guitarist Jean Paul Bourelly, keyboardist Bruce Mack, producer Craig Street, bassist Melvin Gibbs, future musical genius Me'Shell Ndegeocello and, of course Vernon Reid.

"Is that Elvis shirt supposed to be a joke?" asked a kooky looking dude with bugged eyes and dreadlocks. With a goofy voice that reminded me of Richard Pryor, he introduced himself as Darius James. A satirical performance artist who also wrote for lit-mag Between C&D, Darius would later pen the celebrated surreal novel Negrophobia and the semi-autobiographical history of '70s cinema That's Blaxploitation: Roots of the Baadasssss 'Tude (Rated X by an All'Whyte Jury).

"Er, no," I answered. Slightly insulted, I lit a Newport.

"If I were you, I would tell people it was", Darius snorted. Embarrassed, I wanted to melt into the concrete like a black Santeria candle. "So, I guess you must be a fan of Otis Blackwell, huh?"

"Who?" I asked. God, why did all the weirdoes generate towards me, I wondered? "Otis, who..."

"Man, you wearin' that redneck on your shirt and you don't even know the real deal", Darius spat, droplets of spittle stained my glasses. Simultaneously reminding me of Daffy Duck and Goldie the Pimp, there was an endearing quality to his madness. "Otis was the bad piano playin' Brooklyn brother who wrote 'Don't Be Cruel' and 'All Shook Up'", Darius snickered. "Shit, I think your boy Elvis might have got them both for the price of a pickled pig foot, a fried chicken wing, and a bottle of cream soda. He might not have stole the soul, but he bought it mighty cheap".

"You're joking, right? 'Don't Be Cruel' was written by..."

"A black man!" Darius screamed, sounding like one of the sugar high kids on the Stevie Wonder track (from Songs in the Key of Life, 1976) of the same name. "Yeah, and he also wrote 'Great Balls of Fire,' 'Fever,' and 'Handy Man'. Dude had one bad songwriting mojo going down".

"You're serious, right?" I asked.

"If I'm lying, I'm flying and believe me, I ain't no mothership. In fact, I ain't dropped acid since I was in high school in New Haven".

Upstairs, the dank meeting room was filled-up to capacity. Me and my new buddy Darius sat next to one another and listened to lengthy rants for the next few hours: record company politics, lack of diversity on radio, the underrated power chords of former Funkadelic ax-men Mike Hampton and Eddie Hazel, finding a venue for a BRC fund-raiser, the color problem at MTV, racism in New York nightclubs and the frustration of defining "what exactly is Black Rock, anyway?"

Like Amiri Baraka getting off the subway in Harlem to kick-start the Black Arts Movement in 1965, it was obvious that everyone in that room believed themselves to be a "pioneer of the new order". Fighting a rhythmic revolution that challenged the mainstream's fear of blackness (be it black music or black people), I was convinced the agenda of the Black Rock Coalition would change the world.

Twenty years later, though "Black Rock" is still a foster child fighting for acceptance, artists like Apollo Heights and Martha Redbone gives me hope for the future.


In a 2002 interview with rapper Chuck D., who dissed ("Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me/You see, straight up racist that sucker was simple and plain�") Presley on the classic Public Enemy track (which also served as the opening theme to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing) "Fight the Power", said, "As a musicologist — and I consider myself one — there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis, especially during his Sun sessions . . . As black people, we all knew that. My whole thing was the one-sidedness - like, Elvis' icon status in America made it like nobody else counted. My heroes came from someone else. My heroes came before him. My heroes were probably his heroes. As far as Elvis being ' The King,' I couldn't buy that".

Certainly, the real issue is how come Elvis got anointed "the king", while Little Richard is seen as a hysterical sissy, Ike Turner is better known as a wife beater, and Chuck Berry is a musical footnote who once sang about his ding-a-ling. Still, this cultural Apartheid goes back further than Elvis' popularity: Count Basie vs. Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington vs. George Gershwin. Oh, and lets not forget the self-proclaimed King of Jazz, the aptly named Paul Whiteman.

Twenty-eight years after the pale-faced teddy bear Elvis suddenly slumped on the cold tiles, not much has changed on the pop-cult landscape. White is still right, which would surely explain why we're watching Eminem's 8 Mile instead of Live from Queensbridge: The Saga of Marly Marl, Justin Timberlake is considered more of a soul stirrer than Carl Thomas, a frump like Fergie is a bigger star than Res, and most minority music writers are still relegated to the rear review pages of Rolling Stone and Blender.

I just don't understand how me acknowledging the brilliance of Elvis or wailing timeless tracks like "Suspicious Minds" or "Heartbreak Hotel" when they blare through stereo speakers is going to change Planet Pop's perception of race and originality. Just be content that Elvis' gritty message song "In the Ghetto" hasn't been cited as the first rap record: the king is dead, long live the king.


Blogger Christopher Chambers said...

He's a thief like Jerry lee Lewis or the big titted redhead chearleader in "Bring it On." To paraphrase Prof. Todd Boyd, they steal everything but the burden.

The thing that angers me is that he turned into an utterly reprehensible human being and a hypocrite (like all right wingers re: vices like drugs, etc.) toward the end of his life, yet these legions of fools worship him like a god and they are not dying out from old age!!! Maybe that's the allure. Most folks mellow and become philanthropists in the final chapters. He started off the golden child became bigger than the sun itself, and blew up (literally) like a supernova. Now he's a black hole, sucking the dead matter in. But I like the fact he was around, b/c any time some white fool talks about the idiotic things black folks worship, I can always point to Elvis as a defense.

Lord, the King'd love Wal-Mart...

11:16 PM  
Blogger Mark Anthony Neal said...


what a great--honest--piece.



11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Just be content that Elvis' gritty message song "In the Ghetto" hasn't been cited as the first rap record."

Ha! Ain't that the truth.

Shoot I was hella shocked when I took History of Rock-n-Roll in college and the class began by talking about black artists. I was like Big Momma Thorton who?

5:35 PM  
Blogger Liz Dwyer said...

Loved this. Thank you for taking the time to break it down.

There was never any Elvis worship in my house but thankfully, I was taught a thing or two about the real roots of rock. My mom and dad both schooled me on who really invented the music and how racism came into play. When I look at all these cookie cutter rock bands out here making money on the festival circuit, there's almost no black faces and I hope that changes and that black youth start to realize they can pick up a guitar and still be cool.

Another thing you make me think of is when some black folks diss techno, I love telling them about Detroit and Kevin folks invented techno. That always gets a dropped jaw.

2:53 AM  
Blogger MartiniCocoa said...

It's the letter to Nixon that gets me everytime. The King of Jackassery, I say!

But it's cool...I like how you bring your multidimensional love of Elvis full circle.

Yeah JT and his minions are using a similar model but I guess as long as Timbaland is grinning and dancing in the videos and producing the songs for big payday -- it's progress.


One more thing, can Lisa Marie stop trying to be her daddy now? Can't she just spend all that Elvis money and not sing?

Just a thought.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is still an argument 50 years later? The basic flaw with this argument is that there is no such thing as culturally pure. Music goes back and forth and warps and changes because musicians beg borrow and steal what they want. And as well they should. Rock and Roll didn't come over on the slave ships and Chuck Berry didn't arrive fully formed. Hound Dog was written by white dudes. Elvis was a great singer and performer and that's it. He didn't call himself the King of Rock and Roll, so ignore the hyperbole and stop blaming him for a marketing ploy. He sold a lot of records so they called him that. He should have died a bit earlier so that he wasn't remembered as a jumpsuited joke, but most rock musicians should die before thirty. They're usually done by then.

Little Richard, Check Berry and Ike Turner are remembered more fondly than you claim, but they were one trick ponies who didn't change with the times. Little Richard kept quitting to preach. Check Berry liked to install cameras in women's toilets and watch them pee. He also played with pick-up musicians and stopped giving a shit about his shows over forty years ago. Ike Turner was more influential, but he did beat the shit out of Tina and she was the one who talked about it in her autoboigraphy, not some monolithic music establishment.

Anyway, in a world where Kanye West raps over a Daft Punk song and calls it a single, it seems silly to have such a reductive view of what music is and who owns it.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved this piece; very honest and brave of you to write it -- I am always amused when people try to fractionalize music along racial lines; usually, it's the ones who know least about music (any music) that do it. It has been a constant source of amusement for many years, to have people tell me that I listen to 'white' music (and that's some sort of sin, you know) and then a few months or years later, they are listening to 'white' music. You can't get much 'whiter' than KRAFTWERK, and what were some of us skating to - back in the day -- 'Trans-Europe Express'? I have lost count of the 'white' musicians who tell in interviews how they grew up listening to Prince, James, Larry Graham's bass thunder behind Sly, and conversely hearing Black musicians reference Zappa, The Moody Blues, and so on. And, when it comes to who wrote/played certain works, then it's always fun to point out that Carlos Santana's bassist on the first three albums was Sly's cousin, or that 'Black Pearl' was written by a 'white' woman, and 'You've Made Me So Very Happy' was written by a Black woman (Brenda Holloway, along with her sister Patrice and Berry Gordy). The truly ironic part to this scribble, as I conclude, is that for all the race pride posturing of 'Black/Urban' radio (and BET, too) they will not ever open up their playlists to include Black artists who step outside the current 'norm' of 'Black' music -- I think they are afraid we would riot, asking, "Why have you held this back from us for so long?"

12:22 AM  
Blogger Selva said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rufus Thomas once said, "A lot of people claim that Elvis stole our music. The black man's music. The black man, the white man, has no music. Music belongs to the universe."

I think that sums it up nicely.
Elvis once broke the law in Memphis by attending the fair on a 'coloreds only' night because he said he felt more comfortable. Elvis once attended a concert in Memphis that was a fundraiser for needy black children and only came on stage at the request of Rufus Thomas. He then stayed after with Carla Thomas and played piano for the children and talked to them.
Elvis stole nothing and appreciated everyone. One of his best friends was Ali.
Elvis was simply more marketable than the blacks who wrote the songs and it is sad that some of you are too caught up in race to realize this.
Elvis was good looking and had an amazing voice. This still happens a lot in music today. It is pathetic that you have reduced this to an argument about racism.
Oh... and as for the Jerry Lee Lewis comment, he was one of the most talented pianists of all time. Who did he steal that from?

11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found your blog through Afrobella....great post! I'ma keep reading!

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't act like people are fools just because they refuse to see the flaws in a popular figure--that can be said about damn-near any artist/leader/celeb who has been deified by any group of people from JFK to 2Pac to X.

Every musician has influences, if Elvis 'stole' from Arthur Crudup and Otis Blackwell, then Little Richard stole from Ike Turner ('Good Golly Miss Molly' has the EXACT same opening piano riff as 'Rocket 88'); Elvis didn't ONLY become a superstar because he was White (although skin color was a big factor)--he became a superstar because he was a charismatic performer. Bill Haley was White and out before Elvis, but he was no Elvis.

And to compare Timberlake to Elvis is pretty musically ignorant. Elvis made rock 'n roll in its infancy, it had only been around in name for about three years and in sound since the Wynonnie Harris songs of the late 40s--Elvis came out in the mid-50s before the music had been culturally accepted by the masses. JT performs pop/R&B, a genre that has been firmly established for decades and who's principal stars have mostly been Black--and not relatively unknown Black performers, either. Prince, MJ, James Brown, and most of his other influences are all superstar, platinum-selling, world-reknowned artists....

And how many hip hop fans do you think have a clue about the artists that have been sampled by 2Pac, Biggie, or any number of superstar/legendary rappers? So everyone is guilty of musical ignorance to a certain degree--regardless of color.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your 'article' and was astounded to realise that the issue of music has been relegated to an issue of race. Surely all individuals can express themselves in some way. Elvis was amazingly attractive and sounded fantastic. His infectiousness, his smile and persona quite new. How can people take qualities like that away from another. Instead of criticising, you should look within yourselves. Having the ability to affect others in a positive, uplifting way is a gift, MLK, Elvis, JFK, Barack Obama all have (had)this presence. Some of the critics of these people are negative oppressor's themselves who prevent others their freedom of choice, and expression.

12:11 PM  
Blogger The Milner Coupe said...

I know this post is a bit dated now, but I wanted to compliment you on a great written article. I've been a fan of Elvis since I was a child, and that interest led me to a wide level of musical interest.

I agree with one of the other commentors that Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Ike Turner are more respected than you indicate. One thing can be said for most truly unique artists. They're different than us. And sometimes that difference manifests itself in odd or destructive behavior. Not an excuse, just an observation.

Just as Elvis wasn't the same person at 42 that he was at 22, neither was he the bloated cartoon he is sometimes portrayed as. He was still on the road making music whileat the same time struggling with the hypocrisy of his wealth and lifestyle vs. his faith.

As a black man you should not have to apologize for admiring Elvis. As a white man, I'll fly the Chuck Berry with the same gusto. And Mr. Reid should know that I bought all of Living Colour's albums. It was great rock & roll, so I'd love to read just once where he wasn't so bitter. It's not just white folk who didn't buy enough of his albums.

Anyway, I appreciate your writing. Well done.

5:58 PM  
Blogger truerising said...

It is truly sad and amazing that the "layman's" understanding of what Elvis did is so rampant. It is on virtually every website on the internet and even wikipedia. Spewed and farted at every turn. The layman's understanding of music and history is rooted in pure ignorance, confusion, and often racism. And everything you read on the internet virtually is a layman's level understanding. Scholars know what Elvis did. What was called RocknRoll was a variation of the had suggestive dancing and lyrics...and most importantly it was dressed up for white audiences....this is known and described by Chuck Berry and B.B. King. Genre-wise it was the blues with some white pop sound added to draw white audiences. Chuck Berry talks in depth about having done this very intentionally and BB King clearly states as well. There was no FUSION of genres. Elvis stated it brilliantly for a very young man.."they've been doing it for years (RocknRoll) was called Rythm&Blues". If you want to understand anything about music you must know that a song is a canvas. Any song can be sung in a different genre. Listen to Big Joe Turner sing Shake Rattle and Roll (which he did not write) It is BLUESY...with some white pop sound. Listen to Bill Haley do is pure WHITE POP. Now hear Elvis...this is something new...never heard...this is a true FUSION of genres. The only genre that was a true fusion of genres prior was Rockabilly (County and R&B). Elvis was a prominent player and innovator of Rockabilly...known as the Hillbilly Cat. (He is inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of fame-also country, rock, gospel, blues) Elvis had incredibly diverse early childhood genre influences including gospel...This is rare, the vast majority of artists even today lean strongly to one genre influence..with a minor possibly in one or two others (it is why few great artists are in more than one genre hall of fame). When Elvis sings Shake Rattle and Roll you are hearing Country, R&B, and Gospel fused as one sound. never done before. The manic wild sound you hear is the unleashed gospel energy. This is the new sound that would come to be "Rock" to the world. This new sound excited the world and revolutionized music. All artists stood in awe.

"Elvis was God-given. There's no other explanation."
--Little Richard

"Elvis and I are the only true American originals."
--James Brown

“He was the greatest who ever was, is or ever will be."
--Chuck Berry

"Elvis had an influence on everybody with his musical approach."
--Al Green

“Elvis was a giant and influenced everyone in the business."
--Isaac Hayes

"He was a unique artist--an original in an area of imitators."

-- Mick Jagger, ROLLING STONES

"Elvis is the best ever, the most original."
--Jim Morrison, THE DOORS

Words from some of the greatest artists in history. They should be listened to. They were there, were not bias, and are incredible artists who understand greatness. Elvis was unique, revolutionary, extraordinary talented and gifted. He was a genius artist, a Van Gogh, Picasso at the very least. If you have any doubts read their words, and the words of scholars who understand music, and history.

7:00 AM  
Blogger truerising said...

It is criminal the way the truth is distorted about a truly great and revolutionary artist. He did not write songs but many did not. Chuck Berry openly and willingly confesses to "stealing" (he says "I stole them") two songs considered founding songs of RocknRoll he was given full credit for writing.. Maybellene (written by white country man in 1920s recorded by white country singer Roy Acuff in 1940s--lyrics redone and instrumentals at the lead of producer Leonard Chess who states that this "stealing" was done all the time) and Johnny B. Goode (from young white man). Little Richard did not write Lucille, Good Golly Miss Molly, Rip It Up, Whole Lotta Shakin, etc....Ray Charles and B.B King sang country songs written by white people. Many of Elvis's biggest hits were written by white men (such as Hound Dog and Heartbreak Hotel). The whole black, white issue is just a bunch of racist crap that festers through our society. Sad. It is good to be truly understand instead of reading easy access information all over the web that is based in ignorance...and spewed shamefully as fact. Truly ignorant people who make themselves sound well studied when all they have done is ingested gobs of misinformation. Good luck and God bless.

“Elvis Presley is Probably the main founding father of Rock music. He was an unheralded genius behind a new music that changed western civilization for all time.”
--Peter Noone

"More than twenty years ago he burst upon the scene with an impact that was unprecedented and will probably never be equaled. His music and his personality fusing the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues, permanently changed the face of American popular culture."
--President Jimmy Carter, 1977, Excerpt from his Official Statement following Elvis' death (Pres Carter's official statement reflected council of scholars. And since then scholars have learned his role was even more revolutionary.)

"..Elvis Presley caught the public's imagination... through his astounding ability to synthesize all American music styles..."
--Robert Fontenot, music historian

"What he actually did was take 'black' and 'white' music and transform them into this third thing.”
Greg Drew,"The Great Innovators: Birth of a Rock star", published by Business Week 2004

"Elvis Presley's incendiary vocal performance of "Baby, let's play house" (1955), hails from rockabilly's formative era, when the rules hadn't yet been cast in stone, and Elvis was still experimenting in overdrive, searching for the compelling sound that would catapult him to icon status in little over a year.”
--Bill Dahl,

“Sam Phillips sensed something in the wind .... enter Presley in 1954, bringing with him a musical vocabulary rich in country, country blues, gospel, inspirational music, bluegrass, traditional country, and popular music. .... the Sun recordings were the first salvos in an undeclared war on segregated radio stations nationwide.
--Rollingstone Magazine

"In the collective memory of his fans, he reigns as the sleek musical genius who soaked up the multiple influences of America's vernacular music -gospel, country swing, rhythm 'n' blues. Bob Dylan, one of pop's favorite poets, put it best: Elvis, he said was "the incendiary atomic musical firebrand loner who conquered the western world."
--Gwen Gibson, Article "The Top 10 Pop Stars"

7:18 AM  
Blogger HSB DaveB. said...

That's a great read. Big E fan as well. I've always heard he was a racist too. But, I look at his music as evidence that he was not. How can you sing such soulful music and obviously pattern much of what you do performance and fashion wise on Soul/R&B artists, and in turn hate or despise the originators? It's kinda ridiculous.

No doubt he went off the rails towards the end, but there was only one person to ever achieve that kinda fame at the time and who knows how any of us would deal with it.

Peace and SOUL...

A post from a few years ago I did spotlighting the music of E:

6:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved this piece! Very thoughtful, and I love Elvis. Well - certain periods of Elvis, including parts of the Vegas years, King Creole, "Rock a Hula" and "Bossa Nova Baby." Only the Big E could get away with that kind of stuff.

As to the Otis Blackwell reference in the article, Blackwell was certainly a great songwriter and performer, but I'd argue that Elvis made those songs his own. Just listen to the performances side by side to hear the difference.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truth. I love all of these artists. But no one and I mean no one did it like he did it. Even Jackie Wilson can be quoted as saying many people say Elvis stole from black artists but the truth is we were copying him. He was a good friend to many many black artists that admired him very much and he was a close personal friend of Mohamed Aly. People need to get their facts straight. And stop hatin on those that were influential and successful in all genres and for all people. If blacks want their Black Rock n Roll artist to be recognized then recognize them! As we recognize all artists.Peace, finally. But I doubt it.

11:00 AM  

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