Friday, January 8, 2010

“…There is only one king.” - Elvis Presley Turns 75

Today would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday, and a slew of celebrations are taking place to mark the occasion. Elvis’ ex-wife Priscilla and his daughter Lisa Marie will be on hand at Graceland to cut a birthday cake among a crowd of faithful fans willing to freeze in the chilly winter weather.

Here is a clip of Priscilla talking about Elvis on the Today Show:

Elvis Presley plays a large role in the cultural imagination of American history and culture. That said, its easy to lose sight of his core talents and contributions among the sometimes cheesetastic commercialization of his legacy since his passing and the memory of the idiosyncrasies of his later years. To honor his birthday this year, I’d rather reflect on his legacy. As John Lennon once said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” The ingredients for rock and roll existed before Elvis Presley came along, but Elvis was perhaps unwittingly able to capture the lightning of country, gospel and rhythm and blues in a bottle and break the new genre to a huge new audience. As Rolling Stone’s David Fricke wrote in 1986,

“...At Sun Studio in Memphis Elvis Presley called to life what would soon be known as rock and roll with a voice that bore strains of the Grand Ole Opry and Beale Street, of country and the blues. At that moment, he ensured - instinctively, unknowingly - that pop music would never again be as simple as black and white.”

To get a sense of what Elvis was like when he first burst onto the music scene, here he is performing “Baby, Let’s Play House” on television in 1955.

[Image via fiftiesweb]

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