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18 July 2006

The Legacy of Elvis Presley

USINFO Webchat transcript July 18

John Bakke, professor emeritus of the University of Memphis Communication Department,

discusses Elvis Presley’s life, his times, and his continuing cultural impact in a USINFO webchat.

Following is the transcript:

(begin transcript)


Bureau of International Information Programs
USINFO Webchat Transcript

Guest: John Bakke

Date: July 18, 2006
Time: 9 a.m. (1300 GMT)

Elvis Presley’s Impact in America, the World

USINFO WEBCHAT MODERATOR: Join Professor John Bakke on July 18 for a USINFO webchat on
the life and times of Elvis Presley and his continuing cultural impact.

QUESTION [mika]: I wanna know why you are interested in Elvis's life

ANSWER [John Bakke]: I was a senior in high school when Elvis Presley performed in LaCrosse
Wisconsin near my hometown in Northeast Iowa. There was great controversy about the way Elvis
sang and performed and about who he was. World War II and the Korean War and all other
problems had never been discussed with such enthusiasm as was the arguments about who Elvis
was and what his music was about. I could see from personal experience that something was
happening and I wanted to understand what. And I'm still asking the question about what that

Q [William]: Do you believe any of the rumors that Elvis is still alive?

A: No. I know that paramedic who was called to Graceland.

Q [Jacek]: I went to Graceland a couple years ago. I was surprised how many people were there.
How many visitors come each year?

A: Approximately 750,000 people visit Graceland each year. Outside of the White House, it is the
most visited home in America.

Q [Saxena]: A white man with black soul is Elvis. May there be more like him?
A: I think Elvis Presley was a man with a deeply human soul, large enough to be sensitive to
blacks, whites, and all human beings. Elvis had the capacity to draw from all of the influences in
our culture. And yes, I wish there were more like him who were able to do that.

Q [josianeAPC]: What was the first song of Elvis Presley?

A: The first song that Elvis Presley recorded was one he made at the Memphis Recording Service
that was supposedly made for his mother. The name of it was "My Happiness" and on the flip side
he records "That's When My Heartache Begins." These songs were made popular by a local group,
The Ink Spot. Elvis's first commercial recording was "That's All Right Mama," recorded on July 8,

Q [mika] Did black people appreciate his music at that time?

A: Black people at that time appreciated his music very much. In Memphis, when Elvis appeared at
the WDIA Music Review, which included only black performers, and was hosted by the late Rufus
Thomas, as soon as Elvis was brought on stage he was literally mobbed and cheered. African
Americans in the 1950s appreciated Elvis's music for its own sake and saw it as a means to which
there owns music would become better and more widely known.

Q [josianeAPC]: Hi John Bake

I’d like to know who is Elvis Presley?

A: So would a lot of other people, including me.

Q [Mirija]: What make him a famous person in the world?

A: Elvis Presley's voice was remarkable in the sense that through it, he touched people in a way
only great artists can do. The people he touched are as diverse as humanity itself and because of
that, his popularity has transcended race, class, national boundaries, and culture. There is no
simple answer about why that is so. All I can say is he had that magic, the magic of the artist.
When Elvis Presley was first popular, many people said that he did not have a good voice. Almost
everyone today knows that he did, but more people today should see him not simply as a
performer with a good voice, but as an artist with a great soul.

Q [Jacek]: Elvis was young when he died. If he was still alive today, do you believe he could be
such a legend?

A: People who die young, after having accomplished great things, tend to become legends. James
Dean, Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, and Jesus Christ himself all died young and became
legends. The fact that Elvis died so young certainly contributed to his life as a legend. However,
Elvis was a legend in his own time. Marlon Brando, while living a longer life, still remains a legend.
The accomplishments of Elvis Presley, the artist, are and were legendary and would be so, no
matter what.

Q [Margy]: Do you think that Elvis could have been as big as a star if he was born in another
country? Or is he uniquely American?
A: Elvis Presley had the talent to become a star no matter what country he was born in, but being
born as an American, particularly at a time when America was on the verge of technological and
cultural change, Elvis Presley expressed the conflicting values of a generation reared in security yet
longing for freedom. Growing up in a time of conformity, Elvis Presley reasserted the very essence
of American individuality. In his life and music, therefore, he remains uniquely American.

Q [Jacek]: Do you think it is possible today for ANY musician to get to the level of Elvis? He sang
all sorts of music, rock, ballads, hymns etc. Nobody does that anymore.

A: One of the great things about Elvis Presley, which was really not appreciated until after he died,
was the fact that he sang so many different kinds of music. There are performers today who have a
variety of interests, but no one who can sing so many kinds of styles so very well. Therefore, while
we have many great musical artists today, many of whom I personally appreciate, I don't think any
will rise to the level of Elvis.

Q [Margy]: How many records did Elvis make in his lifetime?

A: Ernst Jorgensen, in his book, "Elvis Presley: A Life in Music," provides a count of every record
Elvis performed. If I could get to the end, I could give you an exact count. Instead, I'll tell you that
Elvis sold enough records to go around the world about three times.

Q [Stephanie]: Are those crazy stories about Elvis and the bacon sandwiches true?

A: Probably. Elvis loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches, fried with lots of pure butter. I
know an Elvis fan who was an elementary school teacher who served her class peanut butter and
banana sandwiches on Elvis's birthday. I also know members of the Elvis in group, or what was
called the "Memphis Mafia," who were forced, or strongly induced, to join Elvis in eating his peanut
butter and banana sandwiches whenever he wanted them to. They were not happy about this, but
they did not want to displease The King.

Q [mika] I'm from Madagascar here in Indian Ocean. We have a famous singer, her name is
ANYAH, r'nb style, she sang Elvis' song. So, I'd like to know about the copyright.

A: None of Elvis's performances are copyrighted, but most of the songs he sang have been
copyrighted through BMI, one of the major publishing companies in the United States. I believe it is
headquartered in Nashville.

Q [Stephanie]: Is Elvis bigger in any country than the U.S.? Where else is Elvis very popular?

A: Based on the recent visit to Memphis by the Prime Minister of Japan, I'm not sure where Elvis is
the biggest at this particular time. However, the United States is still the country where Elvis is the
most appreciated, but he is appreciated all over the world, particularly now in Japan and in
Germany, two countries who were enemies of the United States back in World War II. Times
change, don't they?

Q [Mirija]: What was his problem which he couldn't resolve during his life?

A: Like most of us, Elvis probably had many problems that he could not resolve during his life. He
never got over his separation from Priscilla, but deeper than that, he never got over the fact that
as a human being he was a prisoner of his own experience. In other words, his separation from the
rest of humanity. In his novel, "From Here to Eternity," James Jones wrote that being human was
like being a cell in a bee hive--you were a part of something, but you could not get through the
walls. Especially after his mother died, Elvis had a profound sense of loneliness. If you want to
sense how he felt, you might listen to his gospel recording called "Where No One Stands Alone."
One of the Jordanaires (Elvis's backup group) told me recently that when Elvis sang that song, he
looked at him and said, "This is too much," and he never sang it again. The song is about being in
Heaven, where no one stands alone. Elvis used music to reach out and touch people, but in the
process never overcame his own sense of loneliness even though he made people feel
togetherness. The problem that Elvis never overcame was the problem of being human, and I
suspect that he couldn't overcome it until he reached the place where no one stands alone.

WEBCHAT MODERATOR: You mentioned Pricilla. I understand that she was instrumental in making
Graceland popular after Elvis' death and nurturing the Elvis legend. Can you comment on this.

A: Shortly after Elvis died, Vernon Presley, Elvis's father, wanted to sell Graceland to the city of
Memphis because he didn't think he could afford paying the tax on it. The city of Memphis refused
to buy it. Several years later, in the early 1980s, Priscilla Presley decided to make Graceland into
what it has become today. She was ably assisted in doing this by Jack Soden, who has been the
executive director of Graceland since it opened, and is a good friend of mine. Recently another
party has purchased much of the rights to Graceland. I do not know this person, but I do know that
Priscilla Presley indeed is responsible for promoting the legacy of Elvis and for making Graceland
such an interesting and wonderful place to visit.

WEBCHAT MODERATOR: Thank you for your time. This transcript and a longer article about Elvis
will appear shortly on our webpage,[USINFO Webchat Station]. Thank you all for participating.

We are now starting our webchat on Muslim sororities. If you want to participate, please go back to
the login page and log in to that chat. You can use the same login name and password as you did
for this chat. Thanks.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web

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10 July 2006

Elvis Presley's Impact in America, the World Topic of

Professor John Bakke to discuss rock legend's life, continuing cultural impact
John Bakke

Washington -- Elvis Presley, “The King of Rock,” died in 1977, but his presence is still felt in
America and around the world. Join professor John Bakke for a USINFO webchat July 18 on the
artist’s life, his times and his continuing cultural impact.

At 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT), John Bakke, an Elvis expert and professor emeritus of the University of
Memphis who has taught seminars on Elvis, appeared on television shows and served as an
acknowledged source of information for Elvis historians and critics, will discuss the rock-and-roll
legend’s life.

Presley achieved his initial fame in the mid-1950s as a rock-and-roll pioneer, combining musical
elements from African-American blues, Christian gospel and Southern country. He became a
cultural icon through his recordings, films, dance moves and clothing, inspiring modern day
impersonators as well as a continuing fan base. Even in 2006, nearly 30 years after his death, he
remains the top-selling artist of all time, according to the Recording Industry Association of
America, with more than 1 billion record sales.

On June 30, President Bush took Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on a tour of Graceland,
making Presley’s former mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, the only nonpresidential residence in the
United States to host both a sitting president and a foreign head of government. The Japanese
leader is said to be one of the “the King’s” most famous fans. (See related article.)

Why are people so captivated by Elvis? Join Bakke, who has lectured on Presley as part of a
symposium on the 1950s at the Smithsonian Institution and has been a Graceland resource since it
opened, to learn more about the King.

If you would like to participate in this webchat, please sign up on the USINFO Webchat registration
page. Please tell us your preferred screen name; use of full names is not required.

If you have participated in one of our previous webchats, use the same user name and password.
You may submit questions in advance to or directly during the webchat.

We accept questions and comments in advance of and at any time during the program. You may
also e-mail questions without registering.

The transcript of this webchat will be available on USINFO’s Webchat Station, where information
about upcoming webchats also is available.
For more information, see U.S. Life and Culture.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web

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16 August 2006

Pop Icon Elvis Presley Remembered on Anniversary of

Singer who sold 1 billion records and defined an era died August 16, 1977

Elvis Presley, pictured here in 1957, fused what was known as "black music" with the "country" sound prevalent in the
South, creating what is known as Rockabilly. Subsequent generations heard the beginning of rock 'n' roll in his music.
(© AP Images)

Elvis Presley with his Gibson J-200 guitar in 1957. (© AP Images)

By Michael Jay Friedman and Carolee Walker
Washington File Staff Writers

Washington -- Before "Elvis," Beatles vocalist and rhythm guitarist John Lennon once said, "there
was nothing." Lennon exaggerated -- but not by much. By the late 1950s, Elvis Aaron Presley
(1935–1977), a dirt-poor country boy had emerged as “The King" -- Hollywood star, top-selling
recording artist (of all time, by some measures) and cultural icon. His first and perhaps most
lasting achievement, though, was introducing the rhythm-and-blues music pioneered by African
Americans to a white audience. Elvis fused what then often was known as "black music" with the
"country" sound prevalent in the South. The result was called “rockabilly,” but subsequent
generations -- John Lennon included -- heard the beginning of rock 'n' roll.

Elvis was born on January 8, 1935, in what has been described as a "two-room shotgun house" in
East Tupelo, Mississippi. (A "shotgun house" typically refers to a narrow one-story dwelling without
halls, each room placed single file behind the other; so named because in theory a shotgun fired
through the front door would pass through each room and out the back door.)

In 1948, the Presley family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, a city associated with the blues since at
least 1912, when W.C. Handy published the hit song "Memphis Blues." After World War II, the
Memphis blues scene had turned electric, pioneering separate roles for lead and rhythm guitar.
Artists congregated on Beale Street, a major nexus of African American-owned clubs, restaurants
and shops (it also was emblematic of the rougher side of town; one music producer called Beale
Street "the center of all evil in the known universe.” Today, much rehabilitated, it is a national
landmark.) Among the blues masters plying their trade there were Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner and
B.B. King. King later would recall how the teenage Presley "used to come around and be around us
a lot."

Young Presley’s other great musical influence came from the local Pentecostal churches he
attended. The gospel music he heard there would shape his future sound, as would the country-
and-western music popular among southern whites.

In 1953, Presley made his first demo recording for producer Sam Phillips' Memphis-based Sun
Records. Phillips believed that a white artist capable of making that music accessible to a white
audience—"a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel" -- would enjoy great
commercial success. Elvis frankly acknowledged his debt to his African-American predecessors:
"The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I'm doin' now, man, for more years than I
know," he said on one occasion. "They played it like that in the shanties and in their juke joints,
and nobody paid it no mind 'til I goosed it up. I got it from them." Presley’s success in turn helped
early black rockers like Chuck Berry and Little Richard sell records to white teenagers.

Elvis Presley performing country music with Steve Allen and Imogene Coca on the Steve Allen Show in New York City in
1956. (© AP Images)
Elvis Presley performing country music with Steve Allen and Imogene Coca in New York City in 1956. (© AP Images)

Between 1953 and 1955, Presley recorded a number of regional hits for Sun. Some were country-
flavored, while others were remakes, or "covers," of African-American blues. In November 1955,
his manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker (actually born in the Netherlands as Andreas Cornelius van
Kuijk) arranged the purchase of Presley's contract by the much larger RCA Records.

Major hit records followed: classics like "Heartbreak Hotel," "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,"
"Don’t Be Cruel" "Hound Dog," and "Love Me Tender" in 1956 alone. These hits fused a number of
American musical traditions: blues, bluegrass, R&B, hillbilly boogie and more.

Elvis swiftly emerged as “The King." Tall and slim, with long sideburns and a pompadour, he had
unlimited star potential. RCA arranged a number of national television appearances. Criticism of
Presley's allegedly suggestive hip "gyrations" and swivels during an April 1956 performance of
"Hound Dog" only increased his popularity—and earned him the sobriquet "Elvis the Pelvis." By fall,
The Ed Sullivan Show paid Elvis an unprecedented $50,000 for three appearances. The first, in
September 1956, drew an estimated 82.5 percent of the television audience.

Presley's fame grew. He began to star in motion pictures like Love Me Tender (1956) and Jailhouse
Rock (1957). While Elvis was not a trained actor, his charisma filled the big screen. He continued to
star in films like Blue Hawaii and Viva Las Vegas throughout the 1960s.

In March 1958, Presley was inducted into the United States Army for a two-year stint. Thousands
of fans wrote pleading letters, begging that their hero not be drafted. Thousands more (female)
fans reportedly wept when their hero's locks were sheared in a regulation military crew cut. But
Elvis returned to civilian life two years later, and more hit records and movies followed. It has been
estimated that The King has sold more than 1 billion recordings.

Presley continued to enjoy commercial success during the 1960s, although changing tastes brought
artists associated with Motown and the "British Invasion" more to the fore with younger listeners.
Elvis' audience aged with him, and for many, Presley symbolized the America of their youth. In his
1986 song Graceland, named for Elvis’ Memphis estate, now a pilgrimage site for Presley's fans,
Paul Simon memorably declared: "For reasons I cannot explain | There's some part of me wants to
see Graceland.”

Elvis Presley died at Graceland on August 16, 1977. His music, personality and verve touched
millions, from American teens of the 1950s to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who paid
his respects in June as one of the 750,000 annual visitors to Graceland. (See related article.)
Elvis' greatest legacy, though, is the music, and the rockers and other musicians who built on it.
When Presley died, superstar Bruce Springsteen said: "It was like he whispered his dream in all our
ears and then we dreamed it."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site:

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29 July 2008

Rhythm & Blues

Rock 'n' roll incorporated updated rhythm-and-blues traditions

Chuck Berry broke racial barriers hits like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Maybellene.”

(The following is excerpted from the U.S. Department of State publication, American Popular

Fats Domino’s hits include “Blueberry Hill” and “Ain’t That a Shame.”

Three prominent African Americans represent the rhythm & blues-based side of rock ’n’ roll. Chuck
Berry was a songwriter/performer who addressed his songs to teenage America (white and black)
in the 1950s; Little Richard cultivated a deliberately outrageous performance style that appealed
on the basis of its strangeness, novelty, and sexual ambiguity; and Fats Domino’s work embodied
the continuity of rhythm & blues with rock ’n’ roll. Domino was the earliest of the three to become
an established performer, but all three crossed over to mainstream success within the first few
months following the massive success of the white rocker Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock.”

The biggest rock ’n’ roll star to come from the country side of the music world was Elvis Presley. In
1955, RCA Victor, a major label, set about trying to turn the “hillbilly cat” into a mainstream
performer without compromising the strength of his appeal to teenagers. They succeeded beyond
anyone’s expectations. Although Presley’s television performances were denounced by authorities
as vulgar, the shows were attended by hordes of screaming young fans and admired on the screen
by millions. And Presley’s records racked up astronomical sales from 1956 on into the early 1960s,
establishing him as the biggest-selling solo artist of rock ’n’ roll, and then as the biggest-selling
solo recording artist of any period and style – a title he still holds at the beginning of the 21st

Presley’s extraordinary popularity established rock ’n’ roll as an unprecedented mass-market

phenomenon. His reputation as a performer and recording artist endured up to his death in 1977 at
the age of 42 – and continues beyond the grave. Presley made fine records at many points
throughout his career, but his principal importance rests upon his achievements during the early
years of rock ’n’ roll. In 1956 Presley cut a handful of records that changed the musical world for
himself and for those around him, and the unbridled exuberance of his live performances during
that era became the model for every kid who wanted to move mountains by strumming a guitar,
shaking his hips, and lifting his voice.

[This article is excerpted from American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MP3 by Larry Starr and
Christopher Waterman, published by Oxford University Press, copyright (2003, 2007), and offered
in an abridged edition by the Bureau of International Information Programs.]

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26 July 2008

American Popular Music: Introduction

A land of immigrants is the perfect musical laboratory

Musicians gather around Louis Armstrong, seated at piano. Armstrong gave the world a lasting legacy — jazz.
(The following is excerpted from the U.S. Department of State publication, American Popular

By Michael Jay Friedman

Popular music, like so much of American culture, reflects a kaleidoscope of contributions, a cross-
fertilization of styles, and a blending of dreams. It could hardly be otherwise in this nation of
immigrants. Arguably the United States is a perfect musical laboratory: take people from every
corner of the globe, give them freedom to create. Distribute their effort: by sheet music,
phonograph, radio – or, for the younger reader: by Blu-ray Disc, mp3, Internet stream.

And what results! European ballads recast with African poly-rhythmic textures or blended with a
Cuban-flavored habanera or a more “refined” rumba. “Cold” bop. “Hot” jazz. “Acid” rock. “Gangsta”
rap. We might speak less of a singular American popular music than of a constellation of mutually-
enriching American popular “musics.” Elvis Presley borrows from African-American blues, and black
Motown stars recast “white” pop. Ask Khmer-American rapper Prach Ly, also known as “praCh,”
about American popular music and he’ll speak of growing up with Snoop Dog, Dr. Dre, Run DMC,
and Public Enemy on the radio and of cutting his first album in his parents’ garage. Lacking a
mixing board, Prach used a karaoke machine and sampled old Khmer Rouge propaganda speeches
for his powerful musical condemnation of the Cambodian genocide.

We hope the pages that follow convey a sense of creative ferment, of artistic drive, and of how
Americans, borrowing from diverse musical traditions, have made their own original contributions
to humanity’s truly universal language. The reader will encounter here crooners and rappers,
folkies and rockers, the “King,” a Prince, and the “Queen of Soul.” Explained here is the latest in
musical technology, from the solid- body electric guitar to the lossless compression digital file. And
readers will learn about the people who make the music, truly American in their stunning diversity.
Theirs are perhaps the most wonderful stories of all.

A couple whirls across the floor of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, 1953.

Consider the African-American child, born in 1901 and living in a poor New Orleans neighborhood.
At the age of seven, with his mother and sister in poverty, he found work with a family of junk
dealers – Russian Jewish immigrants nearly as poor as his own family. “They were always warm
and kind to me,” he later would write – indeed, as one scholar later put it, they “virtually adopted
him.” The boy would ride the junk wagon and blow a small tin horn to attract potential customers.

As he later wrote:
One day when I was on the wagon with Morris Karnovsky … we passed a pawn shop which had in
its window – an old tarnished beat up “B” Flat cornet. It cost only $5. Morris advanced me $2 on
my salary. Then I put aside 50 cents each week from my small pay – finally the cornet was paid in
full. Boy, was I a happy kid.

That boy’s name was Louis Armstrong. He would give the world jazz.

American popular music is the sound of countless Louis Armstrongs sharing the music in their
souls. It spans a matchless range of human experience, from matters of the heart – Sinatra
bemoaning a lost love “in the wee small hours of the morning” – to the political protest of Country
Joe and the Fish performing the “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag.” Some tunes propel couples to
the dance floor, there to twist or jitterbug, hustle or tango. Songwriters depict their muses so
vividly we can almost believe them real: the Beach Boys’ Caroline perhaps, Chuck Berry’s
Maybellene, Bob Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” or Rickie Lee Jones’s “Chuck E.” And sometimes
what resonates is not the girl in the song, but the one with whom you first heard it, a long time

“Without music, life would be a mistake,” the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote. Here
you will meet many visionaries who would agree.

[Michael Jay Friedman is a staff writer with the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International
Information Programs.]

[This article is excerpted from American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MP3 by Larry Starr and
Christopher Waterman, published by Oxford University Press, copyright (2003, 2007), and offered
in an abridged edition by the Bureau of International Information Programs.]

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