Elvis Aaron Presley, known the world over by just his first name, is regarded as one of the most
important figures in 20th century music and popular culture. He permanently altered the
landscape of American music with a sound and style that uniquely combined diverse and
seemingly disparate musical influences. In the process, he ushered in a music revolution that
triggered a global-scale cultural transformation.
Elvis was passionate about an extensive and varied array of music. His influences included the
pop ballads and country music of his day, the gospel music he heard in church and at the
all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on Memphis’
historic Beale Street as a teenager. His aspiration was to take the music that affected him and
make it his own. Nobody could have predicted how successfully Elvis would achieve his
ambition, or the impact he would have on music and society. He meshed a diversity of musical
influences, creating a sound and style that had never been heard or seen. In the process, he
became the first genuine Rock & Roll icon, providing a new generation with a unique sound
to call its own.
Elvis’ career experienced ebbs and flows, but there are two defining periods in his musical
history: 1955-56, when he achieved national and worldwide recognition with a sound that
blurred the lines between genres; and in the 1970’s when, after two separate comebacks, he
established an iconic image through extensive touring and elaborate performances. Today, 26
years after his death, his success as an artist stands untouched and Elvis Presley remains the
undisputed King of Rock & Roll™.
Elvis’ career was not born with Rock & Roll. In his earliest recordings with Sam Phillips at Sun
Records in 1954, Elvis sang one ballad after another. He failed, however, to impress Phillips
who thought the raw talent before him could not compete with the polished likes of Eddie
Fisher, Dean Martin and Johnny Ray – the definitive crooners of the day. Fooling around
between takes, Elvis jumped into an unrehearsed version of blues man Arthur Crudups’
"That’s All Right." The sound – a white man singing black-influenced music – was precisely
what Phillips was waiting for and anxious to promote.
The sound Elvis created in 1954-55, just before exploding onto the scene the next year, was
revolutionary. In his earliest performances, Elvis added R&B to country and vice versa, melding
musical genres that, previously, had remained distinct. Elvis, while criticized for eradicating the
narrowly defined and independent pop and country music genres of the times, was paving the
way for the full-fledged introduction of a new musical style that was to be known the world
over as rock & roll.