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- Freds Corner
Friday 22nd of September 2017

The history of Elvis Presley

The King

When "That's All Right" was played, many listeners were sure Presley must be black, and most white disc-jockeys wouldn't play his Sun singles. However, black disc-jockeys didn't want anything to do with a record made by a white man. To some, Presley had undoubtedly "stolen" or at least "derived his style from the Negro rhythm-and-blues performers of the late 1940s." Some black entertainers, notably Jackie Wilson, countered, "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."

By the spring of 1956, Presley was becoming popular nationwide and teenagers flocked to his concerts. Scotty Moore recalled: "He’d start out, 'You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog,' and they’d just go to pieces. They’d always react the same way. There’d be a riot every time." Bob Neal wrote: "It was almost frightening, the reaction... from teenage boys. So many of them, through some sort of jealousy, would practically hate him." In Lubbock, Texas, a teenage gang fire-bombed Presley's car. Some performers became resentful (or resigned to the fact) that Presley going on stage before them would "kill" their own act; he thus rose quickly to top billing. At the two concerts he performed at the 1956 Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, one hundred National Guardsmen were on hand to prevent crowd trouble.

To many adults, the singer was "the first rock symbol of teenage rebellion. ... they did not like him, and condemned him as depraved. Anti-Negro prejudice doubtless figured in adult antagonism. Regardless of whether parents were aware of the Negro sexual origins of the phrase 'rock 'n' roll', Presley impressed them as the visual and aural embodiment of sex." 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."

Presley was even seen as a "definite danger to the security of the United States." His actions and motions were called "a strip-tease with clothes on" or "sexual self-gratification on stage." They were compared with "masturbation or riding a microphone." Some saw the singer as a sexual pervert, and psychologists feared that teenaged girls and boys could easily be "aroused to sexual indulgence and perversion by certain types of motions and hysteria—the type that was exhibited at the Presley show." 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 recalls this incident during the '68 Comeback Special.)

In 1957, Presley 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, or ever wanting to say, 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 judged people "regardless of race, color or creed".

His parents moved home in Memphis, but the singer lived there briefly. With increased concerns over privacy and security, Graceland was bought in 1957, a mansion with several acres of land. This was Presley's primary residence until his death.

Presley's record sales grew quickly throughout the late 1950s, with hits like "All Shook Up", "(Let me Be Your) Teddy Bear" and "Too Much".



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