Blue Suede Connection

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Why Elvis? - 1956


 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president and the African American community of our nation sat in the back of the bus and drank from "colored only" drinking fountains.  The adults of this world lived self-proclaimed perfect lives and music was as segregated as the world they lived in.

  Patti Page's "How Much is That Doggie in the Window," reached #3 on the Billboards Top hits for 1953, while B.B King's "Three O Clock in the Morning," hit #3 on the Rhythm & Blue top hits; a real obvious distinction as to how far apart two societies could really be.  

  While the adults were living inside fenced-off lives, the teenagers were bored in confinement, the railings weren't clean and bright, and frankly, they were bored. As history often proves, it's the youth of the world that hears the call of change long before the adults even dare to imagine it.  And rumor had it that fun could be had just across the wrong side of track, where the music had soul, and the dancing was close and intimate, not stiff and timed.  

  When 1954 rang a new year bell, the top charting Pop artist of the time, Rosemary Clooney, was not as desirable as the R&B hit "You're so fine," by Little Johnny Walter! Let's face it, if you were a white teenager in these times, you were asking if the adults, who believed the devil was in the music across those tracks, knew what they were talking about? All these teenagers needed was someone they could relate to, someone that looked like they did to show them that music was colored blind--just like the world should be!

  By 1955 Bill Haley & His Comets took over the charts with "Rock Around The Clock," and the color lines of Rock N Roll turned blue. High schools everywhere buzzed, but it wasn't until 1956 when "Heartbreak Hotel," and "Don't be Cruel," took the #1 and the #2 stop on the Billboard Top 40 that the melting pot came to a rolling boil. The world shook on it's axis. The once roped off dance lines were finally crossed and the adults had lost control. Teenagers ruled! 

  Why? Why Elvis?  Was it his good looks, his dangerous moves, or the rebel sound that called the masses to him, black and white? 

  For the next few blogs, we're going to explore what is was that made Elvis so big, for so long, taking each reigning decade and examining them until we get to what it was that has his popularity lasting to today and beyond.


 "A howling hillbilly success," Life magazine's first mentions Elvis back in 1956, proving early on that the media neither understood Elvis Presley nor expected him to last.

  Rock N Roll,  by than, a popular escape for the day's teenagers, had not really found it's running legs until our boy Elvis came and liberated the world with his sparkly, rather racy, presence.

Who is he, what is he all about? Is he black, is he white? The questions soared and the media wanted to crucify what they did not understand.

 "How do you feel about the criticism you're receiving over your movements on stage?" Hy Gardner asks a 19 year old Elvis Presley, a mix of skepticism as well as curiosity detected.
  Skeptics judged a book strictly by it's cover, and this young man, with his slicked back hair and long sideburns leaves the adults a tad suspicious of his intentions. He is far from the standard crewcut the kids of his age were wearing at the time. Then he speaks and southern charm oozes.   

"I don't feel I'm doing anything wrong." He would never embarrass his mother, he said, speaking of her with such great warmth. It's difficult to crucify a boy who loves his mother as much as this boy obviously did, but they need stories, so they turn to his new and quickly devoted fans.

"What is it," one reported begins, "I mean, he's not Pat Boone." The reporter is trying to understand, but the young woman is crying, shielding her eyes while a friend next to her tries to help, 
"He is just so sweet, ya know," she says, nervously chewing gum and finger nails, "he's like no one else." 

  And there it is; he's like nobody, not Pat Boone, not any other artist on the scene in 1956.

  The media tries to find what could possibly be the draw to this new personality, but they hear much the same everywhere they go; he's just a sweet mama's boy. On stage he's like a Greek God, the Aphrodite of 1956, and every young girl wants to be his Venus. 
Off stage, he says, "yes mama and no sir," and he listens patiently to the adult journalists, never rude and always with great interest.

  They want to hate him. His raw sexuality makes them uncomfortable and his talent is not what they are used to; they like the crooners of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. What they don't know is that Elvis looks up to those that came before him too! 

  There is a clear movement happening right in front of their eyes, an uncertain change, and they want it to stop. Though many deny his lasting capabilities, deep down they know it will not end. Teenagers will never be the same. They're connecting in a very personal way, unlike ever before, with this boy called Elvis Presley.

  When the hysteria of a performance wains, the fans find Elvis available. He is interested in what they think and feel. For hours, he poses for pictures. He's one of them, laughing over fizzy drinks and hamburgers. He asks them questions; what they like or do not like? Nobody has ever asked a 16 year old child what he or she cared about. No adult considered their dreams. It's just assumed the girls will grow up to be someone's secretary, in a typist pool, a mother or someone's wife. And the boys, well the only time adults pay them much attention is when it involves a military uniform and a far away war in a foreign land.

 Teenagers aren't meant to be seen or heard in 1956. Then came Elvis and he actually wanted to know what they dream about? What they see in their future, and worse yet, he was proof that a kid from no where could have a future. Shoot, for that matter, a kid from anywhere could wake up and find himself the King of the whole wide world!

 Elvis' genuine interest in their life struck a nerve with a whole generation. And even to this day, the skeptics of Elvis Presley--yes there are some-- do not realize that Elvis himself bonded his fans to his side from the very start. It was Elvis who cultivated trust and love, and he did this as naturally as one sits down to a meal with family. It was in his personality to care and give. The tender spirit he shared, he had learned from his mother Glady's, who instilled in him a concern for other. It was probably the greatest gift she could have given to him--for sure the best marketing strategic ever invited!--and easily the best part of who Elvis was as a man. None of his best attributes had anything to do with record labels or managers. In fact, Parker wasn't even on the scene yet, and already Elvis was cementing his future with relationships.

Elvis was meant for the roll he played in 1956; the wake-up-call to a world in trouble. He lived on the wrong side of the tracks, related to the struggle of poverty and segregation, and he wanted something better, for himself, for his family. Turns out, an entire generation wanted that too.

Patricia Garber

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." ~ Martin Luther King Jr.