ELVIS & RACE

The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin’ now, man for more years than I know. They played it like that in the shanties and in their jukee joints, and nobody paid it no mind ’til I goosed it up. 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 like old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”

(Elvis Presley Interview The Charlotte Observer 1956)

 “What you call rock’n roll has been around for a long time. It’s called rhythm & blues”

  (Elvis Presley 1959 press conference)

 

 

Elvis has been accused of “stealing the black man’s music” and even of being a racist. This vicious urban legend stems from a rumor published in 1957 in the magazine Sepia, a knock-off of Jet and Ebony, claiming that Presley told a Boston journalist, during an interview that “the only thing black people can do is buy my records and shine my shoes”. This rumour has long been disproved, if only by the facts that Elvis was not in Boston on the reported day of the alleged interview and that there is no trace of the interview or of the interviewer. Jet magazine itself investigated the rumor and concluded it was conmpletely bogus. Asked about it, Presley replied: “Don’t ask me. Just ask people who know me”. Unfortunately, the rumour keeps being perpetuated to this day by people like singer Mary J. Blidge who recently apologized to her audience after performing “Blue Suede Shoes” stating “It is well known that Elvis was a racist”.

Gospel & Blues were an integral part of Elvis’ musical heritage when he grew up near the Shakerag ghetto in Tupelo. He used to sneak into black Gospel shows and even tried to join a black Gospel quartet. In fact, his incredible career rekindled that of many black artists and he always took great care to acknowledge and pay tribute to the black singers who influenced him. He can be heard on the box set “Elvis in Vegas” interrupting his show to pay tribute to Fats Domino who was in the audience, saying that Domino was an incredible influence on him. But in the end, the rumors are best laid to rest by his African-American peers and friends: 

Chuck D:Public Enemy front man Chuck D derided Elvis Presley on the group’s 1989 anthem “Fight The Power,” but it turns out his feelings for Presley are a little more complicated than the song suggests.

 “As a musicologist — and I consider myself one — there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis, especially during his Sun sessions. As a black people, we all knew that,” the rapper said.

 “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.”

 “Eminem is the new Elvis because, number one, he had the respect for black music that Elvis had,” Chuck D said. “I think he’s courteous and sympathetic to black music, and, unfortunately, he’s more sympathetic to black music than many black artists themselves.”

 What I actually disliked was Elvis’ “culture-blurring genius”. This is because it happened to play into the hands of a racist music industry that, at the time, was hungry for a white artist who could play black music.  “Elvis was a door, a gateway through to the roots. In the beginning of his career Elvis admitted where the roots came from, but did anybody care? He was way ahead of his time and black artists owe him big time…”

 James Brown:

“I wasn’t just a fan, I was his brother. He said I was good and I said he was good; we never argued about that. Elvis was a hard worker, dedicated, and God loved him. Last time I saw him was at Graceland. We sang “Old Blind Barnabus” together, a gospel song. I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There’ll never be another like that soul brother. Elvis taught white people to get down…”

 

 Mahalia Jackson (on being asked whether Elvis Presley stole the black man’s music):

“Baby, black promoters oppressed me before white promoters ever got hold of me. Don’t talk skin to me”.

 

B.B. King:

“I remember Elvis as a young man hanging around the Sun studios. Even then, I knew this kid had a tremendous talent. He was a dynamic young boy. His phraseology, his way of looking at a song, was as unique as Sinatra’s. I was a tremendous fan, and had Elvis lived, there would have been no end to his inventiveness.”

 

Fats Domino:

“Elvis came to see me before he got a record deal,” Domino says. “I liked him. I liked to hear him sing. He was just starting out, almost. He wasn’t dressing up. Matter of fact, he had plain boots on. He wasn’t wearing all those fancy clothes. He told me he flopped the first time he came to Las Vegas. I loved his music. He could sing anything. And he was a nice fellow, shy. His face was so pretty, so soft. I’m glad we took this picture.”

 

Jackie Wilson:

“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.”

 

Sammy Davis Jr.:

“There was something just bordering on rudeness about Elvis. He never actually did anything rude, but he always seemed as if he was just going to. On a scale of one to ten, I would rate him eleven.”

 

Chuck Berry:

“Blacks didn’t have the air–waves Elvis had. He delivered what he obtained beautifully”

 

Little Richard:

“He was an integrator, Elvis was a blessing. They wouldn’t let black music through. He opened the door for black music. When he recorded my : “Tutti Frutti”, I got mad at first but in the end, it only made me bigger…”

 

 Isaac Hayes:

“Elvis was a giant and influenced everyone in the business”

 

Mohamed Ali:

“People don’t realize what they had till it’s gone. Like President Kennedy – nobody like him. Like The Beatles, there will never be anything like them. Like my man, Elvis Presley”

 

Al Green:

“Elvis had an influence on everybody with his musical approach. He broke the ice for all of us”

 

Brooke Benton:

“That experience in the church was evident in his later singing style, but he also blended that spiritual feeling with a strong sense of rhythm and blues, even when he was singing the corniest pop or Broadway ballads”

 

Eddie Murphy:

“That’s my idol, Elvis Presley. If you went to my house, you’d see pictures all over of Elvis. He’s just the greatest entertainer that ever lived. And I think it’s because he had such presence. When Elvis walked into a room, Elvis Presley was in the f***ing room. I don’t give a f*** who was in the room with him, Bogart, Marilyn Monroe.”

 

The Blue Boys (Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley & Bill Black)

Bobby Blue Bland, Elvis Presley & Little Junior Parker

Brooke Benton & Elvis Presley

Fats Domino & Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley & Jackie Wilson

Mahalia Jackson & her daughter with Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley & Sammy Davis Jr.

GREAT YOUTUBE VIDEOS ON THE SUBJECT OF ELVIS & RACE

Elvis a Racist? Debunking an Urban Legend

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34LrCW2djCk

ELVIS “BLACK or WHITE” it’s alright!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05hS9TDPiHw

Cissy Houston, Gospel Great remembers her days as a back-up singer for Elvis with The Sweet Inspirations

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OyOLiIg0Bc

Elvis & African Americans: Testimonials

Warning: This video contains painful reminders of how white racists spewed hate on Elvis Presley

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U07zchTVAyI

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