The Gospel according to Elvis
Gospel music may perhaps be one of the things that one would not readily associate with Elvis Presley, but in a real sense, it was an integral part of his make-up. Presley himself once said, "Gospel music is the purest thing there is on earth."
This man, who has been ostracised by the black race for an alleged racist comment, which has still not been proven to be true, spent much of his early years in Tupelo, Mississippi, where he was born, and later Memphis, absorbing the music of local impoverished black communities. As we approach Christmas 2015, it is perhaps a good time to look at Presley's religious leanings, as against his better known rock 'n' roll persona.
Born into a poor Mississippi family, two weeks after Christmas (January 8, 1935, to be exact), Presley became immersed in black gospel as a youth, as his mother ensured that he stayed close to spirituality by playing mainly gospel records of both blacks and whites in the home.
With gospel music permeating his early life, Presley was steered in the direction of black gospel concerts, of which he became a regular visitor and fan. It is a known fact that Presley would choose to sing hymns and gospel songs during his leisure time, rather than indulge in his pop hits.
Presley was particularly privileged to have been brought up in the Memphis area, which facilitated his dual aspiration of rock 'n' roll and gospel. The city was considered 'the home of the blues', but by the early 1950s, it was fast becoming a very popular gospel music centre as well, with several radio stations playing gospel music around the clock. Presley unwaveringly listened to these stations and found himself irresistibly drawn to the black Gospel concerts in the area. It wasn't long before he ended up in the recording studios, recording rock 'n' roll and gospel songs.
Thought to be black
To those who did not know him personally, his first set of songs fooled them into thinking that he was black. Among his early gospel releases were: Take My Hand Previous Lord (1956), It is No Secret (1956), If We Never Meet Again (1958), and the very popular Crying in the Chapel (1960) - the first stanza of which ran:
'You saw me crying in the Chapel,
the tears I shed were tears of joy.
I know the meaning of contentment.
Now I am happy with the Lord'.
It is of particular significance to note that, with all of Presley's achievements, he won only three Grammys, and they were all for - yes, you guessed right - gospel recordings. All won in the category of Best Sacred Performance. The first was How Great Thou Art (1967), followed by He Touched Me (1972) and a concert recording of How Great Thou Art (1974). Between 1956 and 1973, Presley recorded over 100 gospel songs, while underlining the seriousness about his first love, by employing the services of gospel quartets, The Imperials and the legendary Jordanaires in his backup section. Elvis' Christmas Album, released in November 1957, and Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas (1971), have since become collector's items.