To this day, Elvis Presley is known as the King of rock ‘n roll. But I highly doubt many people know why he has such a strong following, even 42 years after his death.
Elvis started out as a shy boy that grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Tupelo, Mississippi. He was exposed to gospel and singing at his family’s church, and after moving to Memphis, Tennessee he was also exposed to rhythm and blues, urban and rural sounds, along with a mixture of white and black music (Anderson, D. August 2017, “How Elvis permanently changed American pop culture”.) With such a variety in his musical background, he was able to make a fusion of those sounds and came up with his own unique style, which would later be called rockabilly.
When Elvis performed he used every bit of his soul, charisma and his innate rhythm to make an impression like no performer before him. He captivated the younger generation, while enraging the older one. Elvis gyrated, sneered, and flirted his way into teenage girls’ hearts all over. Teenage boys wanted to emulate him, from his slick and styled coif to his unique fashion sense. He opened a doorway they didn’t know existed. Teens from that generation didn’t have to help support their family due to a flourishing economy and had the spare income to spend on things they wanted, such as clothes, movies and music (Elvis Presley’s Musical Influence on America). But they weren’t buying their parents music, teens were forming their own culture for the first time and weren’t looking back.
Elvis didn’t write his own music, but he also didn’t sing just anything tossed in front of him. He also wouldn’t “white wash” the songs by toning down the sexual overtones or changing the lyrics to be more morally acceptable. He put his own flair on each song and if he wasn’t happy with the outcome he wouldn’t allow it to be released. The way he integrated the black culture into his music, his performance on stage, and his style made the middle class, middle aged white people scared and angry. This was a time of segregation and Elvis was flaunting his “devilish” ways in their faces, believing he would drag their children into the same depths of depravity as him. In a ironic twist, the more the politicians, celebrities, and parents rallied against him, the more rebellious the teenagers became and embodied what Elvis stood for.
I believe Elvis paved the way for black artists to be accepted by the affluent white population. He broke down racial barriers and exposed white youth to a style of music they had never heard before. His provocative dance moves instilled the breakdown of sexual inhibition, and his fusion of gospel, country, R&B, and black music would be the beginning of an end to racial segregation.
Elvis Presley changed much more than the entertainment industry, as his music set the stage for other musicians in the future. Presley inspired and influenced popular culture, rock ‘n roll, cinema, future musicians, and more (Elvis Presley: A revolutionist by Marcie Wallace, www.lagrange.edu)