Gospel Music According to Elvis Presley

by John Tedeski / 2479 days ago / Comments

Gospel Music According to Elvis Presley

Elvis Aron Presley grew up, as a child, singing gospel music in a small Assemblies of God church in East Tupelo, Mississippi. As Elvis grew older he was encouraged by the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, which formed out of the small Assemblies of God congregation, to pursue his love of gospel music. Elvis did to a degree, but it would eventually be rock and roll that would be his claim to fame.

Elvis, regardless of where he was in life, always kept gospel music close to his heart. He used gospel music to help him relax and also as a warm up tool for both live performances and recording sessions. Simply put, Elvis enjoyed listening to gospel music, especially Southern Gospel quartets. Elvis is quoted as saying: “We do two shows a night for five weeks. A lot of times we will go upstairs and sing until daylight – gospel songs. We grew up with it. It more or less puts your mind at ease. It does mine.”

Elvis always included at least one, if not more, gospel songs as part of his live performances and he even went on to record four gospel albums during his career:

His Hand In Mine (1960)
How Great Thou Art (1967)
You’ll Never Walk Alone (1971)
He Touched Me (1972)

Some of Elvis’ favorite gospel songs include, but are certainly not limited to: “Rock of Ages”, “I Am Redeemed”, “Precious Lord Take My Hand”, “In The Garden”, and “Precious Memories” (his mom’s favorite). When Elvis’ mom (Gladys Presley) passed away he called upon his friends, the Blackwood Brothers Quartet to sing at his mom’s funeral and of course, they accepted the invitation and coincidentally sang all of the above-mentioned songs at the funeral.

On December 4, 1956, at the famous Sun Records (formerly known as Memphis Recording Service) in Memphis, TN with Sam Phillips at the helm, during a recording session with Carl Perkins, Phillips had decided to bring in his newest acquisition, Jerry Lee Lewis to play piano on some of Perkin’s tracks. That afternoon Elvis stopped by the studio to talk to Phillips and at some point, Johnny Cash stopped by the studio as well. Eventually, all four greats gathered together in the studio for an impromptu jam session which led to the four deciding to record a bunch of their favorite gospel songs, and some rockers as well. This session would find the quartet dubbed by Phillips as “The Million Dollar Quartet”. A few of the gospel songs recorded that day are: “When God Dips His Love In My Heart”, “Just A Little Talk With Jesus”, “Walk That Lonesome Valley”, “I Shall Not Be Moved”, “Peace In The Valley”, “Down By The Riverside”, “Farther Along”, “Blessed Jesus Hold My Hand”, “As We Travel On The Jericho Road”, “I Just Can’t Make It By Myself”, “Keeper Of The Key”, “I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling”, and “When The Saints Go Marching In”. What I would give to have been a fly on the wall in that studio that day. Wow!

When Elvis was out on tour, his love of gospel music and the rich vocals of the Southern Gospel quartets, led him to always tour with gospel groups as part of his backing band. He toured with gospel group greats such as The Jordanaires, The Imperials, The Sweet Inspirations and J.D. Sumner and the Stamps.

Throughout Elvis’ illustrious career he set records and achieved successes only attainable by very few since, yet with all that he achieved he only went on to ever win three Grammy awards and all three, believe it or not, were for his gospel music and performances. In 1967 he won his first Grammy for Best Sacred Performance for “How Great Thou Art”, in 1972 he won his second Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance for the album “He Touched Me” and in 1974 he won his third Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance for “How Great Thou Art”.

One thing I know is that when I listen to Elvis sing gospel songs I always end up with chills running up and down my spine, chicken skin, and of course an overwhelming closeness and oneness with God. Gospel music was near and dear to Elvis and who knows if he would have ever come to be known as "The King of Rock and Roll" had it not been for his mom and dad taking him to the little Assemblies of God church in East Tupelo, MS where he first started singing those old gospel songs.


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About John Tedeski

John Tedeski Journalist

I’ve been a musician since the age of 7 when my parents bought me my first drum set. By the age of 16, I was playing the local bar scene. I’ve played around the east coast, and in 1994, through those travels is how I met Founding member of Center Stage Magazine, Tommy Lemon as we were both auditioning for the same band in the Boston Massachusetts area and we’ve been friends ever since. Through the years I’ve met a lot of great musicians such as Vinny Paul (Pantera), Bill Leverty (Firehouse), Ace Frehley (KISS), Marc Ferrari (Keel), Bobby Dall (Poison), and even got to share the stage with Jaime St. James (Black ‘N Blue) and Billy Morris (Warrant), just to name a few. Unfortunately, life had a different path in store for me other than being a full-time musician, yet I’ve been blessed to still be able to play on the weekends with some great local talent. Here I am now with another huge blessing, still within the music world, but this time as a journalist for Center Stage Magazine where I get to talk with and interview musicians who do what I have always longed to do. It’s all good and much less hassle than having to lug my drums all around the country. Rock Out, Roll On & Follow Your Heart ...