Saturday, January 08, 2011

"In The Ghetto" by Elvis Presley

I suppose there will always be those people who will consider Elvis Presley a racist; indeed, the comments section of this very video at YouTube bristles with enough racism of its own directed at him and his memory to gladden the shrivelled heart of even the most embittered Republican.

Claims that Elvis stole black music and made himself wealthy with it - Chuck D of Public Enemy and Eminem are the most vocal proponents of this theory - are specious at best; without such appropriation, black music might have never made such inroads into white culture in the deeply racist 1950s, bringing with it such stars as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Recording artist Jackie Wilson goes so far as to insist that this appropriation went both ways, and that what Elvis did was in fact meld black and white music (in later years, Elvis' stage persona and delivery were more Pat Boone than Chuck Berry) making him a unifier as opposed to a polarizer*.

As a Southerner, if Elvis had wanted to he could have been volubly racist and wouldn't have cared who heard him, much like the white bigots who dogged his concerts throughout the South beginning in 1956 - who at one point even torched his car - and more often than not the venues where he appeared had to be protected by the National Guard. Despite the concerted efforts of some to make Elvis into a hater, no claims that he was have ever stuck, even after extensive investigation by such publications as Jet magazine.

By his behaviour alone it appears he did what he could to lower the colour bar in America; one such action was the recording of this extraordinarily sensitive song, which looks at race relations from the most liberal of viewpoints. Still, there's comfort in belief, even if those beliefs are based on misinformation and the unexamined prejudices of other people; certainly it's easier to repeat what someone else has said than it is to develop one's own opinions, a kind of intellectual laziness which is the modern malaise.

Born on this day in 1935, one of identical twins (the elder of whom, Jesse Garon, was stillborn) Elvis Aaron Presley simply appeared at the right time in the right place with the right look and the right sound and took the world by storm. Others - notably Charlie Rich - had a similar look and sound but never caught on like Elvis did.

In The Ghetto was written by Mac Davis and was first recorded by Elvis in 1965; it became a smash hit when it was released as a single in 1969 following his '68 Comeback special. This particular video is of a performance given in 1970 called Elvis: That’s The Way It Is.

*Let's not forget that Berry Gordy groomed his performers at Motown Records by making them listen to the likes of Doris Day and Pat Boone, as reported in J. Randy Taraborrelli's biography of Diana Ross, Call Her Miss Ross...

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