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VOL. 131 | NO. 166 | Friday, August 19, 2016

What Would Elvis Think of Black Lives Matter?

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The Black Lives Matter movement gathered at Graceland during Elvis Week to have their voices heard. One question I wonder about is, what would Elvis had thought of this? It may seem like a trivial question, but there are relevant lessons.

First off, Elvis and his parents were what was unkindly referred to as Poor White Trash. Their poverty forced them to live in a mostly black area of Tupelo. One result was that Elvis was exposed to and learned to love black gospel music, and rock and roll is a direct descendant of that music.

Secondly, Elvis recorded a large number of rhythm and blues songs that were created by black artists. This was exploitative. But it is not that simple. As many black artists (including Little Richard) have pointed out, Elvis’ recordings did lead to greater attention and success for the black artists who created that music.

Similarly, The Black Lives Matter movement and the issues that led to its creation are complicated. Does saying Black Lives Matter mean others don’t?

Of course not. When I say Elvis music is great, it does not mean that Chuck Berry, Big Mama Thornton, and Aretha Franklin’s music is not.

A close look at the life and career of Elvis reveals that he was ahead of his time regarding race relations. So how would he have responded to The Black Lives Matter movement? In my opinion, he would have sung its praises.

Sam Lapin

Burlington, Kentucky

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