Did Elvis Presley Steal The Black Music World?

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Elvis Presley's Biography

Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977; middle name sometimes spelled Aron was an American singer and actor. A cultural icon, he is commonly known simply as Elvis and is also sometimes referred to as The King of Rock 'n' Roll or The King.

Presley began his career in 1954 as one of the first performers of rockabilly, an uptempo fusion of country and rhythm and blues with a strong back beat. His novel versions of existing songs, mixing "black" and "white" sounds, made him popular—and controversialas did his uninhibited stage and television performances. Presley had a versatile voice and he had unusually wide success encompassing many genres, including rock and roll, gospel, blues, country, ballads and pop. To date, he has been inducted into four music halls of fame.

In the 1960s, Presley made the majority of his 31 movies, most of which were poorly reviewed but financially successful musicals.In 1968, he returned to live performances in a television special which led to a string of successful tours across the U.S., notably in Las Vegas, for the remainder of his career. In 1973, Presley staged the first global live concert via satellite (Aloha from Hawaii), reaching at least one billion viewers live and an additional 500 million on delay.

Throughout his career, he set records for concert attendance, television ratings and recordings sales.He is one of the best-selling solo artists in the history of music, selling over one billion records worldwide, and he is regarded as one of the most important figures of twentieth century popular culture. Among his many awards and accolades are 14 Grammy nominations (3 wins) from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which he received at age 36, and being named One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation for 1970 by the United States Jaycees.Health problems, prescription drug dependence, and other factors led to his death at age 42.



Did Elvis Presley Steal Black Music?

Elvis Presley has had an extensive cultural impact since the start of his career. According to Rolling Stone Magazine, Elvis made rock 'n' roll the international language of pop. Elvis Presley was described at one point as an American music giant of the 20th century who single-handedly changed the course of music and culture in the mid-1950s. His dance moves, recordings, attitude and fashionable clothing came to be seen as embodiments of rock and roll. His music was heavily influenced by African-American blues, Christian gospel, and Southern country.

But did Elvis Presley steal black music? In the 1950s, legal segregation and discrimination against African Americans was common. During Presley's interview in New York City in 1956, it was noted by one of the reporters that Elvis named several blues singers who obviously meant a lot to him. The reporter was very surprised to hear him talk about the black performers down there and about how he tried to carry on their music. It was, of course, in his embrace of black music that Elvis came in for his fiercest criticism. Legendary Billboard editor, Paul Ackerman wrote, he received calls from two Nashville music executives demanding in the strongest possible terms that Billboard stop listing Elvis’s records on the best-selling country chart because he played black music. He was simply seen as too low class, or perhaps just too no-class, in his refusal to deny recognition to a segment of society that had been rendered invisible by the cultural mainstream.
Black artists had sold very little amounts of their recorded music relative to the national market potential. Black songwriters had mostly limited avenues to earn a living. But after Elvis purchased the music of African American Otis Blackwell and had his "Gladys Music" company hire talented black songwriter Claude Demetrius, the industry underwent a drastic change. Elvis invited black performer Ivory Joe Hunter to visit Graceland and the two spent the day together. However, certain parts in American society, including many black people, have branded Presley as no more than a racist Southerner who stole black music. However, black R&B artist Jackie Wilson said, "A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man's music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied their stage mannerisms from Elvis." White cover versions of hits by black musicians often outsold the originals; it seems that many Americans wanted black music without the black people in it, and Elvis had undoubtedly derived his style from the black rhythm-and-blues performers of the late 1940s. The U.S. government reported that Presley has been accused of "stealing" black rhythm and blues, but such accusations indicate little knowledge of his many musical influences. However much Elvis may have "borrowed" from black blues performers like "Big Boy" Crudup, "Big Mama" Thornton, he borrowed no less from white country stars Ernest Tubb, Bill Monroe and white pop singers, and most of his borrowings came from the church; its gospel music was his primary musical influence and foundation. Whether or not it was justified, the fact remains that distrust of Presley was common amongst the general African-American population after the accusations of racism were made public. Elvis’ opinions and beliefs would had to have been influenced by growing up in a poor Southern community spending his early years absorbing the music of local impoverished black communities like Shake Rag in Tupelo and, later on, the Beale Street area of Memphis. Unlike most white teenagers Elvis would delight in attending the coloured East Trigg Baptist Church where he would hear Reverend Brewster’s stirring sermons along with the local black gospel music. Elvis would even slip away from his own First Assembly church meetings to be one of the few whites attending the East Trigg services.

Although some people thought that Elvis Presley steal black music, most fans believed that Elvis Presley is an icon of his own era. He was the man who revolutionized the music industry for three decades. He made the impossible possible and made the society forget it's ugly history. He intertwined the beauty of soul and gospel music, converted blues to rock and roll and vice versa. He was the Albert Einstein music and a legend to be reckoned with. What has he done to our music industry? Absolutely unremarkable. How can you even compare him to anybody? He is Elvis the Pelvis, the king of rock and roll.

According to author Christopher Blank in his published 2002 article, In the past 25 years, the world has improved for black people not only in the music industry, but in other areas as well.

He added that, Memphis exemplifies this. Graceland isn’t the only tourist attraction anymore.

The Rock and Soul Museum traces the history of the blues. The National Civil Rights Museum (which rescued the Lorraine Motel) depicts the 20th Century’s great American struggle. And next April is the grand opening of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music on the original site.

Folks in the music industry now have more respect for black artists, says Chuck D, including the new artists who seem to be walking in Elvis’s shoes.

Mr. Blank claimed that If ever there were a modern parallel, white rapper Eminem is a shoo-in.

Like Elvis, Eminem grew up poor and honed his gift by studying black music and culture. Like Elvis, he’s popular with whites. Like Elvis, he’s become one of the most successful in the business. And like Elvis, Eminem has caught the acting bug.

Eminem doesn’t hesitate to point out the irony on his latest album The Eminem Show, produced by rapper and mentor Dr. Dre.

“I’m not the first king of controversy/I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley/To do black music so selfishly/ And use it to get myself wealthy (Hey)/ There’s a concept that works.”

Chuck D, a founding father of hip-hop and pop musicologist, said that accepting Elvis, and by extension other white crossover artists, might be easier for black Americans now that black artists are getting more credit and exposure.

Several years ago, the Fox TV network sent him to Graceland to do a black-perspective news story about Elvis. The assignment opened his eyes.

“Elvis had to come through the streets of Memphis and turn out black crowds before he became famous,” Chuck D said. “It wasn’t like he cheated to get there. He was a bad-ass white boy. Just like Eminem is doing today. The thing about today is that Eminem has more respect for black artists and black people and culture today than a lot of black artists themselves. He has a better knowledge where it comes from. Elvis had a great respect for black folk at a time when black folks were considered niggers, and who gave a damn about nigger music?”

He also reiterated that the battle for Elvis’s “soul” continues. The Disney cartoon Lilo & Stitch, one of the first Elvis-themed films to show minorities (in this case, Hawaiian natives) digging Elvis’s music, is a step in dismantling the racist rumor and acquainting a young, multicultural generation with his music.

Race relations are a constant effort, says Jack Soden, CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises.

“Time and time again in marketing sessions it ends up on the list of things we want to continually put forth,” Soden said. “We’ve got a responsibility for the history, the pop culture and the legacy to find a way to correct those misperceptions.”

Improving business is also a factor. Not just in record sales, but in getting the community to support the headquarters of Elvis’s empire.

After all, how much pride could the mostly black neighborhood of Whitehaven take in Graceland if its celebrity occupant represented racism? How does that affect the morale of the 400 employees, many of whom live nearby? How does that rub off on the mostly white tourists who are a major source of income for Whitehaven businesses?

“Let’s face it, 98 percent of our visitors are from outside the city,” Soden said. “We know that we’re an economic contribution to the neighborhood. We know for a fact that we’re going to be here five years, 10 years, 20 years from now.”

Graceland wants the Memphis community to know it cares. Its biggest charity effort is Presley Place, a 12-unit apartment complex that houses homeless people until they’re back on their feet. Soden adds, however, that need, not race, is the primary consideration.

Despite the efforts by historians, musicians and corporate executives, getting the word out means reaching one person at a time.

In May, hip-hop singer Mary J. Blige apologized after singing Blue Suede Shoes on VH1’s Divas Live.

She told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I prayed about it (performing the song) because I know Elvis was a racist. But that was just a song VH1 asked me to sing. It meant nothing to me. I didn’t wear an Elvis flag. I didn’t represent Elvis that day. I was just doing my job like everybody else.”

This year’s extra exposure will help change minds, certainly. That, and the continued efforts of Elvis’s black acquaintances.

Before his death last year, Rufus Thomas gave an interview to the TV program American Routes, which aired yesterday on WKNO. The former WDIA disc jockey and legendary Stax singer said: “Well a lot of people said Elvis stole our music. Stole the black man’s music. The black man, white man, has got no music of their own. Music belongs to the universe.”

Thomas went on to say that he played Elvis’s tunes on the radio until the program manager told him to stop because black people didn’t want to hear them. Then Elvis showed up at a WDIA fund-raising event for black handicapped children.

“When Elvis wiggled that leg, the crowd went nuts. He walked right off the stage and people were storming that stage. The next day I started back to playing Elvis again. Going to show you that no one person can tell you what another group might like. Elvis was definitely a part of blues, part of all of that. Elvis was Elvis as none before, and there won’t be anyone after.”Posted in C.A. Archives |

Did Elvis Presley steal black music? I don't think so. Black music will always be part of their own culture and history and no one else can take that away from them. Any popular singers and rappers nowadays, white, brown, or asians who perform and sing black music do not intend to steal from African American culture; it basically just showing a mere admiration of their music. Little Richard once said that Elvis Presley was an integrator. He was a blessing. They wouldn't let black music through. Elvis Presley opened the door for black music.

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Comments 7 comments

patty 5 years ago

I am sick of this being said. Get over it. ELVIS WAS HIS OWN PERSON. HIS STYLE WAS HIS AND HIS ONLY!!


Nisha 2 years ago

Elvis was not part of the blues and yes I agree he was his own thing and either you dig it or you don't. I don't. Personally I prefer Otis redding. But that's just a matter of opinion.


david weinstock 2 years ago

if you ever saw any historical footage, you could see that elvis was a hybrid of country and black r and b music. check out the pbs show on sister rosetta tharpe. she was a chick and she rocked the house and moved around too. check out sam phillips's quotes on getting a white kid to sing black music, and how he just went ape when he found elvis. there is no doubt of elvis's inspirations. the best part is that he never forgot his roots, white and black.


C'mon People 2 years ago

Inflamatory headlines don't make a case for simple facts. The word is "COVER." A label buys the rights and the artist is the mouthpiece.

This is a common practice in the music industry. Every time tou tell a joke without drediting a source you are doing a cover version (i.e. interpretation) of somebody else's words.


Asia Thomas 2 years ago

Have you heard of the song titled "Poor Little Boy in the Ghetto?" Well that song was stolen from my grandfather Johnny Thomas. A typical story of a talented black man trying to reach stardom only to turn on the radio and hear a white man sing it. Have you heard of "Hound Dog?" That song was stolen from Big Mama Thard, a black woman. I mean what white guy from the 60s is gonna come up with the lyrics, "you ain't nothin but a houndog, houling all the time." I mean come on!! It just sucks that there's nothing that can be done. Just another typical story of a white man stealing from a black man; a false 'legend' who was created from the creativity and identities of others.


DaEmph 14 months ago

Who the phuck wrote this bullshit....Elvis didn't open music for Blacks, that is laughable that my stomach hurts.

He stole just like most whites do from other cultures and put their spin on it and call it their "own".


Chuckberry 10 months ago

I agree ElvisPresley did steal black music and made it his own if he was so influenced by blackartists how come he didn't perform on stage with the blackartists he supposedly was influenced by???

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