Artist of the Month: Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley, 1958
Uncredited, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Forty-four years ago, on August 16, 1977 Elvis Presley was found dead in his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee.

Elvis got his start in 1956 and became a sensation after appearing on several televisions shows, most notably The Milton Berle Show in April, The Steve Allen Show in July and The Ed Sullivan Show in October. Each time he appeared on TV, the ratings for the shows shot up. He was censored because many thought the way he danced was obscene.  He became known as "Elvis the Pelvis" and on subsequent shows, he was only filmed from the waste up. The police chief of San Diego announced that if Elvis ever performed in his city, he would have him arrested for disorderly conduct.

Elvis in 1973
RCA Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Over the course of his career, Elvis moved from a teenage rock star to a movie star to a unique, Vegas-style performer, complete with elaborate sequined jumpsuits and big pork-chop sideburns. He had many names, such as "The Memphis Flash," "The Tiger" and the "Hillbilly Cat." He surround himself with a group of loyalists that became known as the Memphis Mafia. Their motto was "TCB" -- "Taking Care of Business."

Most people know him as "The King of Rock and Roll." 

Consequently, many tend to think that Elvis was the first to perform rock and roll. That is not true.

Elvis was important in the history of pop culture, though. What he did was introduce rock and roll to white audiences.

Rock and roll music was first created and performed by black artists, such as Ike Turner, Big Mama Thornton (who was the original singer of "Hound Dog"), Chuck Berry, Little Richard and more. In fact, Elvis got famous singing the songs first recorded by black musicians.

But, like much of the country, music was segregated as well. Music performed by black artists was called "Race music," and it didn't filter much into white America.

Until Elvis, that is. His appearances on television in 1956 introduced white kids to rock and roll, and white kids began listening to not just Elvis Presley, but the black artists who had created rock and roll in the first place.

It is not a coincidence that this is the same time the modern Civil Rights Movement began. 

This month we are featuring the music of Elvis Presley.  Check out our Spotify playlist and you can listen to some of his early classics, such as "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," and "All Shook Up." Plus, some of his later masterpieces such as "Suspicious Minds" and "Kentucky Rain." Plus, many movie songs as well.

Next month, we will feature those black artists who created rock and roll music. Stay tuned!


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