Happy Birthday to Elvis Aaron Presley. The king of rock and roll would be 85 today. He will always be my favorite singer and performer.
His song “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” from the movie Blue Hawaii which was released in 1961, is on the top of my list.
“Wise men say, only fools rush in. But I can’t help falling in love with you. Shall I stay? Would it be a sin? If I can’t help falling in love with you.”
It is a classic love ballad, recorded by a voice and a man that took the country by storm in 1956.
When I think of Elvis, I like to remember the love he had for the Lord and his giving heart. His music was the man’s church. With his fame, Elvis could not go to regular church services like you or me. While on tour, Elvis would have people up to his suite and sing gospel music well into the night.
Presley’s mother Gladys loved his gospel music. It is one of the reasons he was so adamant about recording a gospel album.
Presley recorded “His Hand in Mine” in 1960, the first of three gospel albums of his career. It hit No. 13 on the album charts and was certified gold in April 1969 and Ppatinum in March 1992. He previously recorded “Peace in the Valley,” as an extended single in 1957.
Some of the RCA executives were afraid his rock and roll fans would not support Elvis if he started recording Christian music. They were wrong of course, as Elvis sold millions of copies, not only keeping those fans, but adding more who shared his love for gospel music.
Elvis recorded his second gospel album, “How Great Thou Art,” in 1966 and it was released in February 1967. It was the ninth studio album recorded by Elvis and it was certified gold on Feb. 16, 1968, and platinum and double platinum in March 1992 and triple platinum in October of 2010. The title song, “How Great Thou Art,” won the Grammy Award for Best Sacred Performance.
For all of his legendary rock and roll music, it was Elvis’ gospel music that won him three Grammy Awards. He won a Grammy Award in 1972 for Best Inspirational Performance for the album “He Touched Me,” and won again in 1974 for Best Inspirational Performance for the album “How Great Thou Art.”
Elvis was born in Tupelo, Miss., on Jan. 8, 1935. As a child he attended First Assembly of God Church with a small congregation of 25 people or so on the poor side of town. The Rev. Frank W. Smith played guitar and taught Elvis a few chords. He grew up with a love for gospel music.
He got to know the Blackwood Brothers, a gospel group, from their monthly performances at Ellis Auditorium. Elvis hung around there when the Blackwood Brothers performed. They invited him into the shows free of charge, knowing he could not afford the admission price.
When he was on his way to becoming a rock and roll legend, Elvis never forgot his gospel music roots and had the Blackwood Brothers, The Jordanaires, the Imperials, the Sweet Inspirations as well as J.D. Sumner and the Stamps perform with him and sing backup.
He always turned to gospel music to get him “in the mood,” to perform. “It more or less puts your mind at ease,” Elvis said. “It does mine.”
Elvis was also known for his giving heart.
The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, devastated the U.S. Navy, but only two ships were a total loss — the U.S.S. Oklahoma and the U.S.S. Arizona. The Oklahoma was brought to the surface but was too badly damaged for repair. The Arizona lost 80 percent of its 1,512 crewmen, and the ship became a memorial on the bottom of the harbor where it sits today.
There was an effort to raise money for the Arizona Memorial, but this was denied in 1950s with efforts focusing on the Korean War. Efforts were made to raise money again in 1958, but by 1960 only $155,000 had been raised.
“Colonel” Tom Parker, Elvis’ agent, read about the struggling fundraising efforts and organized a benefit concert.
Performing his hits like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “All Shook Up,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “It’s Now or Never,” and “Hound Dog,” the concert raised $60,000 and the Arizona Memorial was on its way to the goal of $500,000.
Elvis Presley did appeals for the March of Dimes and Polio in 1956, Hungarian refugees in 1957, St. Jude’s in 1958 and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in 1961.
He bought hearing aids for patients who could not afford them. He loved to surprise friends, family and simply people he met with Cadillacs.
Elvis would quietly pay for hospital bills, bought homes and paid off debt for total strangers.
Carrying on his tradition of giving, Elvis fan clubs have raised more than $3 million for charity.
The greatest gift the man left us was his music, especially the inspirational gospel music and his spirit of loving one another.
Rest in peace, Elvis.