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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Kings of Rock ‘N’ Roll

The first thing I learned about Elvis Presley was that he died on the crapper. What a tragic way for theKing of Rock to go out, especially since there is so much more to Elvis than his embarrassing demise. Elvis was born in the two bedroom home his father built out in Mississippi, he had a twin brother who was stillborn and somewhere along the line he eventually became Americas largest cultural icon.

Elvis was a great singer, unique in his presentation style (flashback to pelvis thrusts) and a hunk, but what I appreciate most about Elvis was his ability to adopt the African American music of the day. I find it highly respectable for someone to bridge the gap between the races during the era of segregation – even through music. Elvis attended black churches, dressed differently at his all white high school and eventually started singing black music. On the radio, his voice and music was so indistinguishable from that of the African American musicians, that in an interview the DJ mentioned that Elvis attended L.C. Humes High School, an indicator that he was white.

That said, it needs to be recognized that although Elvis was a spectacular sight to see for mainstream white America in the 1950s, his roots, his basis was grasped heavily from black soul, jazz and blues music. Im not sure that American society from the 1950s really appreciated this fusion of a white singer with black soul, blues and jazz music; actually, his being white trumped the fact that he was highly influenced by gospel music from black churches he attended, and contributed to his success.

The crooner type music and persona that Elvis was also well known for, was seen in earlier soul music. Sam Cooke (my favorite) and Ray Charles are some well-known heart warmers that had the ladies screaming just as long as Elvis did.

At the very least,Thats All Right Momma by Arthur Crudup (1946),Hound Dog by Big Momma Thorton (1953), andTutti Fruity by Little Richard (1955) had great attribution to his position as the King of Rock. Elvis first singleThats All Right is just as upbeat androck and roll-y as Crudups version if you listen to it. These older influences really gave Elvis the sound that has been referred to as the first, as innovative and as a unique sound that was unprecedented before Elvis became famous.

Some people have claimed that Elvisstole black music, but that is farfetched. Elvis was quoted in Time Magazine recognizingthe colored folks been singing it and playing it just like Im doing now, man, for more years than I know. I got it from them. Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel all old Arthur felt, Id be a music man like nobody ever saw.

Elvis had an appreciation for African American culture that would not have been expected during this time period. If he should be praised for being the first at anything, it should be the fact that he very strongly appreciated part of a culture that was not being paid attention to. Even to this day, a lot of musicians sample each others work and do cover songs, so the problem is not that he borrowed others music.

The point is it should be acknowledged that there were musicians before him that had done almost exactly the same thing.


SARA KOHGADAI loves Elvis any way no matter that he wasnt the first to do it. But listening to Sam Cooke might be better. Anyway, good luck on finals everyone, and a happy belated birthday to Ryan Walsh. Contact me at sbkohgadai@ucdavis.edu.



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