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“Elvis,” Harrison says, “will continue to grow.” Fans, it turns out, need never have a lonesome night.The Presley legend has proved durable and intriguing not least because it mirrors much of American culture in the artist’s lifetime and beyond.Phillips, the maestro of Sun Records who recorded artists such as B. King and Ike Turner in a still-segregated South, understood the underlying realities of Jim Crow America.Chuck Berry and Little Richard would be early breakout stars across the color line, but Phillips believed that would not be enough to integrate the cultural and commercial markets.A longtime cotton hub, the city, like Presley himself, sat between the blues-soaked Delta and the virtually all-white country-and-western music world of Nashville.
Last year, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the Essential Elvis record platinum, and in 2016, Presley was, according to Forbes, the fourth top-earning dead celebrity in America, trailing only Michael Jackson (who, in an only-in-America twist, was once married to Presley’s daughter), cartoonist Charles Schulz and golfer Arnold Palmer.
Ted Harrison, a British writer and broadcaster who’s done landmark work on the Presley phenomenon, notes that investors in the “Elvis brand,” thanks to the Presley family, have had unusual artistic and commercial freedom.
Next up: a hologram Elvis that can carry an entire concert.
“I knew that for black music to come to its rightful place in this country, we had to have some white singers come over and do black music–not copy it, not change, not sweeten it. With Presley’s emergence (as well as Bill Haley’s and Jerry Lee Lewis’, among others), Phillips’ prophecy came true, but not without resentment from the architects of the tradition Presley was drawing on.
“I was making everybody rich, and I was poor,” said Crudup, who originally recorded “That’s All Right.” “I was born poor, I live poor, and I’m going to die poor.” In the white mainstream, Presley’s story was quintessentially American–a striver rising to riches from largely impoverished obscurity (his family lived in a federal housing project in Memphis after moving to Tennessee) on the strength of his talent, not on the circumstances of his birth.