Elvis Presley & Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 2017

68 special in white odd angle.jpg

The upcoming weeks mark the well deserved federal holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr. “day”. In my opinion Dr. King, Jr. was an incredible leader who put his own well being in jeopardy standing up for not only what was right but to obtain justice for the masses.

I have, on several occasions, read the writings of Dr. King, Jr. and those he wrote while he was in jail (like so many of his writings) were powerful and stirred my emotions. What an incredible leader.

Decades ago I was honored, by marriage, to have stayed in the suite in Washington DC at the Willard Hotel. This was the same suite that Dr. King, Jr. wrote his “I have a dream speech”. Though the wedding took every moment the significance of Dr. King, Jr. being in the same suite was very…humbling. I have great memories of that time, and that love, I (in far too many ways) I took for granted. But, this post is about the connection(s) between Elvis and Dr. King, Jr.

Elvis grew up poor. Elvis never saw one’s color nor did he tolerate those who treated others with anything but respect.

Elvis grew up in the church moved by preachings, the choir, and the church filled. Elvis grew up a southerner and endured everything that being a southern man, at the period in history, entails. Elvis loved the church and was a deeply spiritual man. The same can be said of Dr. King, Jr.

Several firsthand accounts confirm that Elvis had respect, and admiration, for Dr. King, Jr. and his non-violent approach.

On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered by a coward. And he was murdered in Elvis’ beloved city of Memphis in Tennessee which upset Elvis greatly. One would think that living in the 1960’s, which I did and all the turmoil and the decade had earlier brought the murder of America’s President John F. Kennedy and months after Dr. Kings’ death came the murder of Robert Kennedy, that “nothing would be shocking” as the country was “numb” by back to back killings bringing anger and uncertainty. But, when it came to the death of Dr. King, Jr. millions of people then and now mourn and that includes this writer.

During the 1960’s Elvis was locked into movie contracts which played out to be approximately three per year. Not many people know that Elvis had to star in movies regardless of the quality, or lack of, the scripts. Elvis had no say over the movies he starred in and the 1960’s were, in many instances, frustrating for Elvis.

Elvis was presented with an opportunity to have a TV special that would air around the Christmas season in 1968. I have written about aspects concerning this special in great detail so what I will say now is that Elvis, with the guidance of the talented producer/director, realized that this was the chance for him to return to a live audience (which he was kept from for approximately 8 years) as well as showcase his first love in entertainment and that was singing/performing.

When the time came, after great momentum, for Elvis to decide how to end the TV Special, which would be sponsored by the Singer sewing company and titled “Elvis”, Elvis wanted to express his feelings. His pulse. His sensitivity. His release from years of pent up anger/frustration. Elvis shared this with Walter Earl Brown, a great song writer, and together they used direct quotes of Dr. Kings, they came up with one of the greatest songs in the world…”if I can dream”.

Not only was the song beautiful but Elvis poured his heart and soul into the song. There are two versions of this song from the 68 special and one was Elvis in front of the audience in black leather and he never looked, or sounded, better. The other was Elvis, dressed in a white 1960’s fashionable suit, singing in front of large red lit letters that spelled out “E L V I S”. The version of Elvis in white is my personal favorite version of this song. I encourage everyone to watch Elvis performing this song and affirm that, with every pore and vocal inflection, Elvis shared a soulful message with the viewing audience all the while paying respect and love to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The TV ratings were a success and catapulted Elvis back into superstardom as a singer/performer. Out of the thousands of songs Elvis knew, and he had a photographic memory, he could not of picked a better song than “if I can dream”. I believe it is one of Elvis’ greatest performances and certainly was a meaningful song for him as a man and as an entertainer.

It is hard, at times, for me to believe that it has been 49 years since Dr. King, Jr. took breath upon this earth. And it has been, as of August 16th of this year (i.e. 2017), 40 years since Elvis took his last breath. Both of these men had failures, shortcomings, and regrets but they were both wholly unique and they rose to infamy for what they stood for – what they believed – and how they chose to live their lives. I miss them both and my prayers are always with the family, and loved ones, of these great men.

Take care and God bless you.

Jeff Schrembs

http://www.ElvisCollector.info

http://www.ElvisCollectorWorldwide.freeforums.org

 

 

 

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