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How Did Elvis Change the World Around Him?

It’s been more than 40 years since Elvis Presley last swivelled his hips and performed on stage before he died suddenly in 1977 at the age of 42. Elvis’s memorable singles: Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, and Suspicious Minds, including soundtracks and concert albums have all sold billions of copies worldwide. Elvis became an international star in a few short years. No doubt he is a cultural icon, but he also made an impact on the society he lived in.

Impact on Segregation

Elvis lived in a time when the civil rights movement was broiling. He didn’t care about legal segregation and shocked his white fans by acknowledging great black artists for his success. He had a deep devotion to rhythm and blues (R&B) and is a fan of B.B. King, Fats Domino, and Ivory Joe Hunter. He was grateful for their influence and recognised their talents.

The King hired African-American songwriter Claude Demetrius, causing a dramatic shift in the music industry. He challenged the status quo by standing up for equality. Little Richard referred to Elvis as a “blessing” and one who opened the door for black music.

Challenging Conservatism

Music was a great inspiration for Elvis. As a child growing up in Mississippi, he ran to the church altar to be close to the choir. He was inspired by gospel songs. Three of his Grammy awards were for his gospel works. His love for the gospel, friendliness with black musicians, and outrageous hip swivelling caused him trouble with religious and political groups.

There was genuine concern for the American people, especially the youth who went mad, with girls going into convulsions while absorbed by his pelvic thrusts, fashion choices and sexualised performances. The American audience had never seen anything like that and Elvis’s performance rendered him a pariah.

Standing against racism

When he sang “Hound Dog”, crowds went into a frenzy and the audience would literally hyperventilate. Today, such behaviour and performances are expected of rock stars, thanks to Elvis pioneering this movement. He was labelled a sexhibitionist, his suggestive performance was criticised by churches for polluting the minds of young Americans. Outraged parents equated rock and roll with disobedience and delinquency.

The biracial origin of rock and roll, and Elvis’s prominent role in developing the genre, with the help of black musicians, led to persistent accusations of cultural appropriation. All these played against racial discrimination, segregation in the south and the civil rights movement - which fuelled resentment towards Elvis.

The legacy Elvis left behind

Despite the challenges, he met from racism, and conservatism, Elvis managed to make America fall in love with him. His effect and legacy on music and society are unmistakable. He laid the foundation for an open society and liberalism, as well as for other musicians in the generations after him. Since Elvis, anything and everything is acceptable in today’s world.

Inspired by Elvis’s legacy? You can learn to sing and play the guitar as Elvis did. Get in touch with us at Ritmo Music Studio for your trial class!

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