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Celebrity

The Great Performers: Elvis Presley

Mixing hillbilly and blues, Elvis Presley’s musical contribution was immense. But his truly liberating contribution was in busting the shackles that restrained movement. He launched into middle-class living rooms through the TV and so captivated audiences that his popularity remains undiminished more than two decades after his death.

Why He Matters: “If you’re looking for trouble/You’ve come to the right place.” With those words, the King opened his 1968 comeback concert, proving the man who defined early rock ‘n’ roll had not died and gone to Hollywood. Seven years had passed since his last live performance, and not only was there doubt about his abilities, there was plenty of competition from British and American performers. The camera pulled back to reveal the artist wearing rebellious black with a blood-red scarf and guitar hanging from his neck. For about an hour, he jammed casually with old friends and sang with unbridled passion. Elvis proved he was beyond imitation.

Postscript: For Elvis, it was all about passion. But for his audience, it was all about Elvis. And whatever Elvis did or didn’t do didn’t seem to affect his popularity. Eventually, Elvis simply didn’t do. His stage show became bloated like his body–both of which he degraded in his act–but the fans ate it up anyway. Addiction to pills proved the death of Elvis, his belief in science replacing his belief in himself. Dead at 42, he lives on as the most popular artist of all time.

The Last Word: Guitarist Scotty Moore, interpreting the shrieking that began at a Presley performance on July 19, 1954: “With those old, loose britches that we wore…You shook your leg, and it made it look like all hell was going on under there.”

Music

Celebrity

Mixing hillbilly and blues, Elvis Presley’s musical contribution was immense. But his truly liberating contribution was in busting the shackles that restrained movement. He...

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