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Elvis Presley is known as “the King of Rock and Roll.” His music made him one of the most prolific cultural icons of the 20th century. His unique musical style was deeply influenced by his Southern roots. Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and later moved to Memphis, Tennessee with his family where he began his music career in 1954.
Some of Presley’s early experiences with black music and culture included singing with the choir at the East Trigg Baptist Church in Memphis during his high school years. It was also during high school that Presley began developing his unique style growing sideburns and styling his hair with rose oil and Vaseline.
Presley recorded multiple songs in 1953 and 1954 before winning some acclaim with “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Critics felt that the songs represented an “R&B idiom of negro field jazz” as well as country making Presley’s musical style something new and unique. Presley soon signed a deal with RCA and began performing on television and making regional performances.
By 1957, Presley had shot to international stardom with three number one singles: “Too Much,” “All Shook Up,” and “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.” After serving in the U.S. Army, Presley returned to the States in 1960 and immediately began recording new material that included multiple hits such as “Stuck on You” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?.”
Presley soon ventured into film producing 20 different films during the 1960s that coincided with releases of either soundtracks or EPs. Presley’s work and success made him the best-selling solo artist in recorded music history with over 600 million units sold worldwide. He was inducted into multiple music halls of fame, won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and won 3 of the 14 Grammys he was nominated for.
Presley died on August 16, 1977 from what many believe was a drug overdose and/or reaction, although his cause of death was officially attributed to cardiac arrhythmia. Despite his untimely death, as then President Jimmy Carter states, Presley, “permanently changed the face of American popular culture.”
Check out the following video to hear musicians such as Al Green and Stevie Wonder discuss Presley’s music and the influence of black music and culture on Presley’s unique style. The video also contains clips of white and black radio DJ’s reacting very differently to Presley’s music and their choice to either play or ban his music on their stations.