Blue Suede Connection

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Elvis & The Sweet Inspirations


The Sweet Inspirations; an American R&B, all girl's singing group, founded by Emily "Cissy" Houston, mother of Whitney Houston, spent the summer of 1969 questioning whether or not working with Elvis Presley, aka The Hill Billy Cat, was such a good idea.

"Hound Dog?" long time members, Myrna Smith laughed, "But we're Gospel and R&B, what in the world are we going to do with Hound Dog?"

The sentiment was shared by all the ladies, Cissy Houston, Myrna Smith, Estelle Brown, and Sylvia Shemwell, as they showed up in Las Vegas to rehearse, for what would be Elvis Presley's return to a stage after a ten year absence! 

"We didn't know what to expect," Myrna remembers, "but when we saw the all-male Gospel Quartet, a Rock n Roll band, and a full string orchestra taking their places, we knew this was more than Hound Dog!"

Indeed, the Vegas stint of 1969--two sold out shows a day, for thirty days--was far more than the Elvis of 1956. This more-mature Elvis had a vision, and inside his dream was a mix bag of musical genres. "I wanted to fill the room with music, wall to wall sound," Elvis told reporters when asked about his style change.

And the dream became a reality when he combined the voices of The Imperials, and later JD Sumner and the Stamps, both all male gospel quartet's, with the Rythm & Blues of The Sweet Inspiration's; ironically, all the music Elvis had enjoyed since childhood. The TCB Band was next, assembled by Elvis himself; a mix of Rock N Roll in the driving beat of Ronnie Tutt on drums, the finessed sound of studio guitarists, James Burton and John Wilkinson, all combined with the soul of blues bass player,  
Larry Mohoberac, followed by Jerry Scheff--and the cherry?--topped by Joe Guercio's Orchestra. The sound was BIG indeed!

And from 1969 to 1977, Aug 16, 1977, The Sweet Inspiration's created music with Elvis, touring across the United States, and enjoying the love of Elvis and his fan's. They laughed together, cried together, and fought the racial division of the times.

"When Elvis was asked to play in the Houston Astro Dome, he was asked to leave his black girls at home," Myrna smirks, "Elvis said, I'm sorry, but if my girls don't come, I don't come. And so we went..."

But the highlight of that evening had not yet been revealed, as Myrna explained, "When Elvis rode around the arena in a jeep that night, he made sure we had our own jeep, and a little blonde girl driving us. He made sure we were seen!"

The ladies remember Elvis as a man who crossed racial lines, long before it was accepted! "Ebony magazine interviewed us once, asking about the rumor of Elvis supposedly making some racial slur?" Myrna say's, "and I told them, we never heard it, and we do not believe it; we loved him dearly and he loved us." Ebony magazine went on to research this statement, and after years of interviews, admitted they could not find any solid proof.

 While the members of The Sweet Inspirations changed in time, with Cissy Houston stepping down to leave the three ladies on their own, the years passed with more happiness then sorrow; the music these talented ladies gave the world, over the better part of 40 years, lives on. The music will outlive us all.

"Elvis Presley dying? No!" Estelle's voice cracks, still, no matter the passing of time, "Elvis Presley is larger than life, he cannot die. We could not believe it was happening." 

A shock wave was felt around the world; Elvis was bigger than life. When he walked in to a room, his energy took over; how can a man like this die? The Sweet Inspirations did not lose a boss on that hot day in August, they lost a dear friend. "I made the mistake of calling Elvis boss," Remembers Sylvia, "and he quickly corrected me; I'm not your boss, I'm your brother." He will forever be remembered as a friend to all that loved him.

 This week on Blue Suede Connection, join Dan and TL as they highlight the talents of The Sweet Inspirations and spin many of the hits they helped Elvis to enjoy.

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We thank you for the music!

Patricia Garber

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