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The Music Diaries | Rock, roll, religion - Elvis Presley's gospel side overlooked

Published:Sunday | November 19, 2017 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley's early life and upbringing were grounded in poverty, after being born into a poor sharecropping family in Tupelo Mississippi on January 8, 1935. His depression-scarred father struggled to feed the family, and eventually had to move north in search of greener pastures in Memphis. It was there that Elvis became hooked on the music of pioneering black artistes being played on the radio, got immersed in black Memphis blues clubs, and absorbed the music of local impoverished black communities.

A roll call of Presley's close musical associates shows James Brown, bluesman B.B. King, Fats Domino, Sammy Davis Jr, Ray Charles, Rufus Thomas, Jackie Wilson, Johnny Mathis, Brook Benton, Billy Ward, Roy Hamilton and Mahalia Jackson - all negro artistes who have been photographed with Presley, and who have vouched to his non-racist leanings.

The real Elvis Presley was a deeply religious individual who had a compelling propensity for singing hymns and recording gospel songs.

I'll bet that the flooding of the Memphis airwaves with both black and white gospel, and Presley's early attendances at gospel concerts, must have influenced his decision to get into the recording studio to do gospel songs.

His triple-CD compilation album of 2000, Peace In The Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings debuted at number 13 on Billboard's Top Contemporary Christian album chart in January 2001. Among his early gospel releases were Take My Hand Precious Lord, It Is No Secret, If We Never Meet Again and Crying In The Chapel - all done between 1956 and 1960.

Although the Rock 'n' Roll King achieved so much in that genre, ironically, his only Grammy awards were for gospel, in the category of Best Sacred Performance. They were How Great Thou Art (1967), He Touched Me (1972) and a concert recording of How Great Thou Art (1974).

And I'll again bet that Presley must have thought that a miraculous escape with his life in 1956 was due to his closeness to God. After appearing in Texas, he was in a hurry to reach his next engagement at The Nashville Studios on time and chartered a plane. It developed engine trouble, causing the plane to fall steadily to within a few feet above the ground before the problem was rectified. (SOURCE?)

Presley in fact died on August 16, 1977 at age 42, the same as the Jamaican music legends Dennis Brown and Peter Tosh.