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Just-Pics » History Folklore AND Literature »  Elvis Presley The Controversial King Of Rock And Roll that capitalised on Black folk music from the deep south. In Elvis's own words "The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin' now, man, for more years than I know

Elvis Presley The Controversial King Of Rock And Roll that capitalised on Black folk music from the deep south. In Elvis's own words "The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin' now, man, for more years than I know

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Elvis Presley The Controversial King Of Rock And Roll that capitalised on Black folk music from the deep south.  In Elvis's own words "The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin' now, man, for more years than I know.

He could sing the blues like black folks and he could also do the wiggle and steps like any black folk down in Mississipi.  From a very early age growing up in a poor Southern community Elvis spent much of his time  absorbing the music of local impoverished black communities like Shake Rag in Tupelo and later on the Beale Street area of Memphis.

This was not seen as normal behavior by some, but then Elvis was not your average guy. Elvis, unlike most white teenagers would delight in attending the ''colored'' East Trigg Baptist Church where he would hear local black gospel music. According to some people that knew him Elvis was not guided by color but by what he liked and felt good with.

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.

In spite of the facts that Nat King Cole had the number two song in 1950, and the number one song in 1951, and Chuck Berry had a major hit with "Maybellene" in 1955, in the United States in the 1950s legal segregation and discrimination against African Americans was common, especially in the Deep South.

Presley would nevertheless publicly cite his debt to African American music, pointing to artists such as B. B. King, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Ivory Joe Hunter, and Fats Domino. The reporter who conducted Presley's first interview in New York City in 1956 noted that he named blues singers who "obviously meant a lot to him.

According to one man who knew Presley, Elvis used to play the guitar and go around with quartets and to Black spiritual 'sanctified' meetings. He lived near the ''colored section'', and people around there say he's one of the nicest boys they ever knew.

People were very surprised to hear him talk about the black performers down there and about how he tried to carry on their music." In mid 1950s in Charlotte, North Carolina, Presley was quoted as saying: "The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin' now, man, for more years than I know. 

Elvis did not only enjoyed and played folk music but he also liked and was influenced by some of the African American dances.

Take for instances the burlesque beauty Nina Mae McKinney - The First Black Movie Star was the first American to do the jail house rock dance.  Elvis Presley was undoubtedly influenced by her moves and incorporated it into his performances.


Nina Mae McKinney (June 13, 1912 – May 3, 1967) was an American actress who worked internationally during the 1930s and in the postwar period in theatre, film and television, after getting her start on Broadway and in Hollywood. Dubbed "The Black Garbo" in Europe because of her striking beauty, McKinney was one of the first African-American film stars in the United States, as well as one of the first African Americans to appear on British television.

Nina Mae McKinney was born in 1912 in the small town of Lancaster, South Carolina, to Georgia and Hal McKinney. Her parents moved to New York for work during the Great Migration of African Americans out of the rural South in the early 20th century, and left their young daughter with her Aunt Carrie. McKinney ran errands for her aunt and learned to ride a bike. She soon was performing stunts on bikes, where her passion for acting was obvious. She acted in school plays in Lancaster and taught herself to dance.

They played it like that in their shanties and in their juke joints and nobody paid it no mind 'til I goosed it up. I got it from them. Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now and I said if I ever got to a place I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw." 

Elvis Presley was seen by some black musician as an integrator because of his praise for black music.  Some even went as far and said Elvis was a blessing because in those days, it was very difficult for black music to get a break through to mainstream audiences.  They wouldn’t let black music through. Some felt that He opened the door for black music."

White American parent's were not smitten by Elvis's butt shaking, belly jiggling and notorious foot shaking.  According to rhythm and blues artist Hank Ballard, "In white society, the movement of the butt, the shaking of the leg, all that was considered obscene. Now here's this white boy that's grinding and rolling his belly and shaking that notorious leg.  Presley complained bitterly in a June 27, 1956, interview about being singled out as “obscene”.

This caused teens to pile into cars and travel elsewhere to see him perform. Adult programmers announced they would not play Presley's music on their radio stations due to religious convictions that his music was "devil music" and to racist beliefs that it was "nigger music."

In heavily segregated Memphis, Presley was regularly seen at black-only events. In June 1956, a Memphis newspaper reported that Elvis had attended the Memphis Fairgrounds amusement park on a designated 'colored night'. The next month, he attended black radio station WDIA's charity event, featuring all-black talent, including Ray Charles, B.B. King, the Moonglows, and DJ Rufus Thomas.

 B. B. King said he began to respect Presley after he did Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup material and that after he met him, he thought the singer really was something else and was someone whose music was growing all the time right up to his death.
Racists attacked rock and roll because of the mingling of black and white people it implied and achieved, and because of what they saw as black music's power to corrupt through vulgar and animalistic rhythms.

The popularity of Elvis Presley was similarly founded on his transgressive position with respect to racial and sexual boundaries.  White cover versions of hits by 1930s and 1940s black musicians often outsold the originals;  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."

In an interview with PBS television, social historian Eric Lott said, "all the citizens' councils in the South called Elvis 'nigger music' and were terribly afraid that Elvis, white as he was, being ambiguously raced just by being working-class, was going to corrupt the youth of America."

 Robert Kaiser says he was the first who gave the people "a music that hit them where they lived, deep in their emotions, yes, even below their belts. Other singers had been doing this for generations, but they were black."

Therefore, his performance style was frequently criticized. Social guardians blasted anyone responsible for exposing impressionable teenagers to his "gyrating figure and suggestive gestures."
The Louisville chief of police, for instance, called for a no-wiggle rule, so as to halt "any lewd, lascivious contortions that would excite the crowd."

Even Priscilla Presley confirms that "his performances were labeled obscene. My mother stated emphatically that he was 'a bad influence for teenage girls. He arouses things in them that shouldn't be aroused.''

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