Elvis thought he would have a career in C&W, but Sam Phillips loved his Blues renditions better.
When I was little, I used to really dig Elvis. According to my mother, I got real excited when I saw him do his thing on TV. It was mainly that old black & white footage of him with the guitar. I knew he was White, but there was something very “un-White” about him to my young mind. I remember getting pissed, when I had to go bed and miss one of his movies, when his birthday came around each year. Finally my mother told me that he was a Racist. She heard that he said “the only thing a nigger could do for him was shine his shoes.” I got to tell you, my heart was broken, upon hearing that.
I loved all those old black & white movies about Rock ‘N’ Roll back then, especially Chuck Berry and Little Richard. One of my favorite movies was American Graffiti and Grease. That TV show Sha Na Na, was a big deal to me as well. Elvis was the cream of them all basically, in my opinion. After she told me about those Racist remarks, I more or less left his stuff alone, and read more on the Blues, & the Jump Blues influence that became Rock ‘N’ Roll.
Around my sophomore year in high school, I discovered Led Zeppelin. I bought their whole catalog on vinyl and cassette, as well as to bootleg recordings. I immediately noticed Zeppelin liked to do an Elvis medley in their live shows, and it was one of my favorite parts. This reminded me of how much I loved those records, even though I believed he was a Racist. In the Navy, I bought 2 cassettes of his early stuff on Sun Records as well as his 1950’s songs on RCA. My friend Johnson from NYC, heard me listening to it, and gave me a lecture on why no Black person should be listening to Elvis or Country music for that matter. He told me there are no Country stations in NYC. LOL Of course my hero, Chuck D followed up with that sentiment in “Fight The Power” with Living Colour co-signing years later on “Elvis Is Dead”.
A few years ago, I decided to find out just when and where Elvis made that statement. All the stuff I read and watched about him and his associates, shows me he had great respect for Black people, Chuck Berry, and the other Black musicians who made the way for him. He even said that he was NOT the King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Chuck D even reversed himself, and explained that he knew Elvis was no Racist, but was railing against the Elvis icon that arose after his death, and represented a certain values to a particular demographic, that had no love or respect to Blacks contribution to the form Elvis is praised for.
OK, know the facts! Elvis NEVER said that anywhere at any time. It amounts to a urban legend that won’t die, like the makers of Tide detergent (Proctor & Gamble) selling their souls to the devil and admitting so on Phil Donahue’s show. It started with an article about Elvis in Sepia Magazine in 1957. It was called ‘How Negroes Feel about Elvis’ and it included that Racist tidbit my mother told me about.
Others believed a rumored crack by Elvis during a Boston appearance in which he is alleged to have said: ‘The only thing Negroes can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records’. This was the first time this so-called Racist statement by Elvis ever appeared in print. The facts are plainly simple. He had never made any appearance in Boston, nor according to some others, said it on Edward R. Murrow’s program, Person To Person (he never came on that program).
Very unlikely a White boy from Mississippi, who shops at Negro clothing stores, listens and sings to Race records, go to ‘Colored Nights’ at amusement parks, makes friends with James Brown and Muhammad Ali, etc, etc, does not fit the profile of a Racist or closet Racist. Jet Magazine asked him about that remark that same year and he vehemently denied it and was genuinely insulted that something like that would be attributed to him. He was quoted as saying , ‘I never said anything like that, and people who know me know that I wouldn’t have said that. A lot of people seem to think I started this business, but Rock ‘N’ Roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing like Fats Domino can. I know that.’
He's got a few Black Elvis Impersonators.