In 1956, Elvis attended the otherwise segregated WDIA Goodwill Revue, an annual charity show put on by the radio station that called itself the "Mother Station of the Negroes." In the aftermath of the event, a number of Negro newspapers printed photographs of Elvis with both Rufus Thomas and B.B. King ("Thanks, man, for all the early lessons you gave me," were the words The Tri-State Defender, a black Memphis newspaper , reported he said to Mr. King).
When he returned to the revue the following December, a stylish shot of him "talking shop" with Little Junior Parker and Bobby "Blue" Bland appeared in Memphis' mainstream afternoon paper, The Press-Scimitar , accompanied by a short feature that made Elvis' feelings abundantly clear. "It was the real thing," he said, summing up both performance and audience response. "Right from the heart."
The underlying point of Elvis' music is this: Far from asserting any superiority, he was merely doing his best to find a place in a musical continuum that included breathtaking talents like Ray Charles, Roy Hamilton, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and Howlin' Wolf on the one hand, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and the Statesmen Quartet on the other. "Let's face it," he said of his rhythm and blues influences, "nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. I can't sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that."
When a reporter referred to Elvis as the "king of rock 'n' roll" at the press conference after his 1969 Las Vegas opening, he rejected the title, as he always did, calling attention to the presence in the room of his friend Fats Domino, "one of my influences from way back." The larger point, of course, was that no one should be called king; surely the music, the American musical tradition that Elvis so strongly embraced, could stand on its own by now, after crossing all borders of race, class and even nationality.
"The lack of prejudice on the part of Elvis Presley," said Sam Phillips, the Sun Records founder who discovered him, "had to be one of the biggest things that ever happened. It was almost subversive, sneaking around through the music, but we hit things a little bit, don't you think?"
'Elvis was my close personal friend. He came to my Deer Lake training camp about two years before he died. He told us he didn't want nobody to bother us. He wanted peace and quiet and I gave him a cabin in my camp and nobody even knew it. When the cameras started watching me train, he was up on the hill sleeping in the cabin. Elvis had a robe made for me. I don't admire nobody, but Elvis Presley was the sweetest, most humble and nicest man you'd want to know'.
- Muhammad Ali
'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'.
- Jackie Wilson
'I wasn't just a fan, I was his brother. He said I was good and I said he was good; we never argued about that. Elvis was a hard worker, dedicated, and God loved him. Last time I saw him was at Graceland. We sang Old Blind Barnabus together, a gospel song. I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There'll never be another like that soul brother'.
- James Brown
'That's my idol, Elvis Presley. If you went to my house, you'd see pictures all over of Elvis. He's just the greatest entertainer that ever lived. And I think it's because he had such presence. When Elvis walked into a room, Elvis Presley was in the f***ing room. I don't give a f*** who was in the room with him, Bogart, Marilyn Monroe'.
- Eddie Murphy
'I remember Elvis as a young man hanging around the Sun studios. Even then, I knew this kid had a tremendous talent. He was a dynamic young boy. His phraseology, his way of looking at a song, was as unique as Sinatra's. I was a tremendous fan, and had Elvis lived, there would have been no end to his inventiveness'.
- B.B. King
'Elvis was an integrator. Elvis was a blessing. They wouldn't let Black music through. He opened the door for Black music'.
- Little Richard
'Early on somebody told me that Elvis was black. And I said 'No, he's white but he's down-home'. And that is what it's all about. Not being black or white it's being 'down-home' and which part of down-home you come from'.
- Sammy Davis Jnr
...'Describe Elvis Presley? He was the greatest who ever was, is, or will ever be'. - Chuck Berry
....He was a mild tempered, quiet, nice guy. He treated everyone the same. There have been rumors about him, saying that he said 'The only thing blacks can do for me is shine my shoes'. Now, I don't believe that. I never saw him act in anyway like that'. 'I overheard one of Elvis' friends at the time ask Elvis 'Why do you call him 'mister' -- he's just a barbecue guy?' Elvis looked at him and said 'He's a man'. ' 'That', Withers says, 'Was the humility in his temperament'. - Ernest Withers
'Elvis was a great man and did more for civil rights than people know. To call him a racist is an insult to us all'. Ernest Withers
In a Sepia article, B. B. King supported Elvis. “What most people don’t know,” stated King, “is that this boy is serious about what he’s doing. He’s carried away by it. When I was in Memphis with my band, he used to stand in the wings and watch us perform. As for fading away, rock and roll is here to stay and so, I believe, is Elvis. He’s been a shot in the arm to the business and all I can say is ‘that’s my man’.”
In his 1957 investigative article in JET, Louie Robinson concluded that not only did blacks know Presley; he also knew blacks. “I always wanted to sing like Billy Kenny of the Ink Spots,” Robinson quoted Elvis. “I like that high, smooth style.” When Robinson asked about the origin of his “earthy, moaning baritone” singing voice, Presley responded, “I never sang like this in my life until I made that first record—That’s Alright, Mama. I remembered that song because I heard Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup sing it and I thought I would like to try it.”
...Robinson was impressed with Presley’s honest evaluation of his contribution to the genre. “A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Elvis explained, “but rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it; I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that. But I always liked that kind of music.”
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