Did Elvis Presley Steal The Black Music World?

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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 1950’s, 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. 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.

So 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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