Elvis Presley is the single most signi

Elvis Presley is the single most signi!cant !gure in rock and roll history. Elvis completely
revolutionized music and his in”uence changed the entertainment industry
forever. In the 1950’s, the South was heavily racially segregated, but Presley’s music
broke past these racial barriers. He allowed African American music to be accessible
to white American youth who had never really been exposed to it. Elvis challenged
the social and moral values as his music and provocative dance moves created an
entirely new generation.
By 1955, Elvis Presley had gone from a local to a national sensation. People
quickly fell in love with his amazing voice and pelvic thrusting hips. Critics both
loved and hated him, while girls swooned over him. As Elvis became more popular,
the older generation began to resent him and controversy quickly surrounded
him. The fact that Elvis shook his hips, thrust his pelvis, and danced passionately on
stage, turned parents against his music. Presley posed a threat to the values that
white American society strongly believed in. Elvis “set in motion a style of music
that dominated the world for the rest of the century. It was the beginning of youth
culture, the breakdown of sexual inhibition, and the end of racial segregation.”
Elvis truly paved the path and opened the door for white Americans to
listen to African American music. His popularity increased the opportunities for African
Americans both inside and out of the industry which had a positive e#ect on
racial relations, particularly in the South. Little Richard, who was a popular African
American artist of the time, spoke very highly of Presley: “He was an integrator. Elvis
was a blessing. They wouldn’t let black music through, but he opened the door.”
Presley not only played a signi!cant role in the integration of whites and African
Americans but allowed people to have the freedom to express themselves physically
and sexually. He challenged the social and moral values of the time and ended
up creating a generation that was able to have the freedom of expression. Elvis
Presley forever changed music and left a lasting legacy which positively in”uenced
American society.
Elvis grew up as a poor, white, country boy who drove trucks for a living
and seemed to have “sprung on the world without a history.” One author describes
Elvis’ emergence in the mid-!fties as “so sudden, his music so fresh, his personality
so evocative that he could not be labeled. People went crazy. There has never been
a mania quite like it.” Although there is no exact date or time that history tells us
is the birth of rock n’ roll, July 5, 1954 in the studio of Sun Records changed music

forever. Rock n’ roll had been “brewing for years, but its de!ning moment was Elvis.”
Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and began singing with his parents
at the local First Assembly of God Church. In the summer of 1953, Elvis visited the
Memphis Recording Studio, owned by Sun Records, and paid four dollars to record
a few songs as a birthday present for his mother. A year later, the owner Sam Philips
called Elvis back to the studio for a recording session. Elvis played a few songs but
it was not until he broke out into “That’s All Right Mama,” a 1946 number by Mississippi
bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, that music would never be the same.
Elvis’ combination of singing with a mixture of country, rhythm and blues, and black
gospel was original and completely hypnotic.
Presley’s version of “That’s All Right Mama” soon became a local hit in Memphis.
Not much later, Elvis landed a contract with RCA records and recorded his
!rst single for RCA, “Heartbreak Hotel” which rose to number one on the charts. His
unique vocal style, swinging hips, and incredibly good looks drove him to become
a national sensation in no time. Bobbie Ann Mason describes how Elvis became an
overnight phenomenon:
People didn’t know what Elvis’ music was. They didn’t know if it was rhythm
and blues, country, or what but whatever it was, listeners clamored for it. In an era
when daytime radio was dominated by tepid crooning, quirky novelty, and chirpy
innocence, here was a record- by a white boy- that had a “avor of juke-joint music.
It had the thumping abandon, the driving energy, of the life force itself- a thrusting
and writhing and wallowing and celebration.
Elvis’ music “merged disparate strands of blues, country, and gospel into
a !ercely dynamic sound that ignited a musical and cultural explosion whose reverberations
are still being felt today.” Elvis Presley started at Sun Records in 1954,
went to RCA in 1955, and reached complete fame by 1956. Soon enough Elvis was
literally everywhere; on the record charts, television, movie theaters, and live on
stage. What seems to be every parent’s worst nightmare was beginning to come
true.
Producers of !lms and network television programs quickly recognized
the charismatic appeal of Elvis, especially for younger audiences. As a result of his
music career taking o#, Elvis began to appear on television. His television career
began during his appearances on CBS’s Stage Show. Another of his !rst television
appearances was The Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956 which triggered the !rst
controversy of his career. Presley sang his latest hit “Hound Dog” and danced with
intense pelvis shaking moves as the American public watched in awe in their living
rooms on their small television screen. Elvis used a stand up microphone as a prop
as he bent the microphone towards him and danced with it passionately.
This controversial movement broadcasted on television brought sexuality
in the open. People were disgusted with what they saw, as the sexual symbolism
was uncanny. Fans adored him while critics across the country slammed his performance,
for they believed it to be vulgar and provocative. American society was
Marcie Wallace

terri!ed and fearful of the possibility that moral values could be changing, yet Elvis
Presley was on his way to doing exactly that. Within a year of his appearance on the
show, Elvis was the top selling performer of all time.
After the Milton Berle Show, Elvis was scheduled to appear on Steve Allen’s
new Sunday night variety program. Since Presley’s performance on the Berle Show
caused raging controversy, NBC decided to not cancel the show since Allen assured
viewers that he would not allow Presley “to do anything that will o#end anyone.”
Steve Allen presented Elvis by saying: “We want to do a show the whole family can
watch and enjoy so tonight we are presenting Elvis Presley in what you might call
his !rst comeback, here he is.” Elvis came out dressed in a formal tux and a top hat
and sang “Hound Dog” to a basset hound. NBC’s attempt to civilize Elvis completely
back!red as fans greeted Elvis the next day with signs that read “We Want the Real
Elvis” and “We Want the Gyrating Elvis.”
Soon after Ed Sullivan, who had one of television’s most popular variety
shows during that time, declared that he would never hire Elvis Presley. But after
Elvis’ performance on The Tonight Show, Sullivan decided to give Elvis a second
chance. Ed Sullivan o#ered Presley a three-show contract and during the !rst two
appearances, the camera only pulled far back enough to show Elvis’ body for a
short amount of time. At each movement of his body, however slight, the audience
“erupted in paroxysms of emotion.” But for the !nal show, camera operators were
told to only shoot Presley from the waist up, even during his performance of the
gospel song “There Will Be Peace in the Valley.” The network decided to only have
the cameras shoot Elvis from the waist up in hopes to not o#end older viewers. At
the end of the show, Sullivan assured the audience that Presley was a !ne, decent
boy.