Elvis dared!

Tomorrow the 16th August, the world’s western music cannot be silent to the 30th year of the King Elvis Presley’s departure. He is still in the minds and hearts of a whole generation of song lovers. For having enjoyed the music of the King, for having played his tunes in the 60’s, when I used to be part of a music band, for having watched over and over many of his films, for having been active in pacifying the opposing “Elvis” & “Cliff” fan clubs’ battle, I can only be moved by my memories of one of the most famous singers of my youth days. Yes, after Elvis, I cannot ‘be lonesome tonight’ and I shall not be ‘crying in the chapel’. I took the time to read on the life of this great singer last night after being reminded by the media of him. “It’s now or never”: I have to write about him on my blog.

Why was Elvis Presley so popular? What novelty had he produced in his day?

Some will argue that he brought black music to the whites.  He was a white man singing black blues. He brought ‘Rock n Roll’ to a new popularity. He bridged the racial boundaries. Note that in his youth days, the southern states of America were still very much racially segregated.


 He dared! He created a new style of music.


Regarding Presley’s hybrid style of music, others have observed: “Racists attacked rock and roll because of the mingling of black and white people it implied and achieved and because of what they saw as black music’s power to corrupt through vulgar and animalistic rhythms… The popularity of Elvis Presley was similarly founded on his transgressive position with respect to racial and sexual boundaries… White cover versions of hits by black musicians … often outsold the originals; it seems that many Americans wanted black music without the black people in it.” To some, Presley had undoubtedly “stolen” or at least “derived his style from the Negro rhythm-and-blues performers of the late 1940s.” But some black entertainers, like Jackie Wilson claimed: “A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact; almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis.”


 With his hips movements on stage, he initiated a new style of sexual liberation.

Presley was considered by some to be a threat to the moral wellbeing of young women, because “Elvis Presley didn’t just represent a new type of music; he represented sexual liberation.”In 1956, a critic for the New York Daily News wrote that popular music “has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley” and the Jesuits denounced him in its weekly magazine, America. Even Frank Sinatra opined: “His kind of music is deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac. It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people.”

In August, 1956, a Florida judge called Presley a “savage” and threatened to arrest him if he shook his body while performing in Jacksonville. The judge declared that Presley’s music was undermining the youth of America. Throughout the performance (which was filmed by police), he kept still as ordered, except for wiggling a finger in mockery at the ruling. (Presley himself recalls this incident during the ’68 Comeback Special).

He challenged the norms of the day.

The singer himself seemed bemused by all the criticism. On another of the many occasions he was challenged to justify the furore surrounding him, he said: “I don’t see how they think [my act] can contribute to juvenile delinquency. if there’s anything I’ve tried to do, I’ve tried to live a straight, clean life and not set any kind of a bad example. You cannot please everyone.”

In 1957, Presley had to defend himself from claims of being overtly racist: he was alleged to have said: “The only thing Negro people can do for me is to buy my records and shine my shoes”. The singer always denied saying such a racist remark. Jet magazine, run by and for African-Americans, subsequently investigated the story and found no basis to the claim. However, the Jet journalist did find plenty of testimony that Presley saw people as people “regardless of race, color or creed.”

I was very pleased to read his legacy published on WIKIPEDIA.

 He inspired a whole generation of new singers.

However, back in the late sixties, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein had remarked: “Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it’s a whole new social revolution… the 60’s comes from it.”

It has also been claimed that his early music and live performances helped to lay a commercial foundation which allowed other, established performers of the 1950s to be recognised. African-Americanacts, like Fats Domino, Chuck Berryand Little Richard, came to national prominence after Presley’s acceptance among the mass audience of White American teenagers. Little Richard commented: “He was an integrator, Elvis was a blessing. They wouldn’t let black music through. He opened the door for black music.” It has been claimed that the black-and-white character of Presley’s sound, as well as his persona, helped to relax the rigid color line and thereby fed the fires of the civil rights movement.

Presley’s recorded voice is seen by many as his enduring legacy (His death triggered a huge boost in his record sales, as well as other merchandise – some of it of dubious quality and taste). In The Great American Popular Singers (1974), Henry Pleasants wrote: “Elvis Presley has been described variously as a baritone and a tenor. An extraordinary compass… and a very wide range of vocal color have something to do with this divergence of opinion. The voice covers two octaves and a third… Moreover, he has not been confined to one type of vocal production. In ballads and country songs he belts out full-voiced high G’s and A’s that an opera baritone might envy. He is a naturally assimilative stylist with a multiplicity of voices – in fact; Elvis’ is an extraordinary voice, or many voices.”

Gospel tenor Shawn Nielsen, who backed Presley, said: “He could sing anything. I’ve never seen such versatility… He had such great soul. He had the ability to make everyone in the audience think that he was singing directly to them. He just had a way with communication that was totally unique.” Bob Dylan remarked: “When I first heard Elvis’ voice I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss… Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.”

Many other celebrated performers of pop and rock music have acknowledged how much the young Presley had inspired them. The Beatles were all big Presley fans. John Lennon said: “Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been a Beatles.” Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan said: “For a young singer he was an absolute inspiration. I soaked up what he did like blotting paper… you learn by copying the maestro.” Rod Stewart declared: “Elvis was the king. No doubt about it. People like myself, Mick Jaggerand all the others only followed in his footsteps.” Cher recalled: “The first concert I attended was an Elvis concert when I was eleven. Even at that age he made me realize the tremendous effect a performer could have on an audience.”

By 1958, singers obviously adopting Presley’s style, like Billy Fury, Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard (the so-called “British Elvis”), were rising to prominence in the UK. Elsewhere in Europe, Johnny Hallyday became the French equivalent and the Italians Adriano Celentano and Bobby Solo were also heavily influenced by Presley.

The singer continues to be imitated – and parodied – outside the main music industry. Presley songs remain very popular on the karaoke circuit and many from a diversity of cultures and backgrounds work as Elvis impersonators (“the raw 1950s Elvis and the kitschy 1970s Elvis are the favorites.)

Presley’s informal jamming in front of a small audience in the ’68 Comeback Special is regarded as a forerunner of the so-called ‘Unplugged’ concept, later popularized by MTV

In 2002, The New York Times observed: “For those too young to have experienced Elvis Presley in his prime, today’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of his death must seem peculiar. All the talentless impersonators and appalling black velvet paintings on display can make him seem little more than a perverse and distant memory. But before Elvis was camp, he was its opposite: a genuine cultural force… Elvis’s breakthroughs are underappreciated because in this rock-and-roll age, his hard-rocking music and sultry style have triumphed so completely.”

(Source: Wikipedia, elvis.org, elvis.com)


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