Elvis Presley, born and raised Tupelo, Mississippi deep in the southern Bible Belt, was raised in a very religious family. His mother's influence led to his start in music -- singing at their tiny church in Memphis -- and led to his lifelong habits of reading his Bible and praying regularly. Elvis was well schooled in spiritual matters and eager to share his knowledge, even to the point of hosting Bible studies at his California home in the 1960s during his film-making period. Elvis once said, "Since I was two years old, all I knew was gospel music. That music became such a part of my life it was as natural as dancing. A way to escape from the problems. And my way of release."
When Elvis was troubled, he turned for spiritual guidance to books and individuals, but he seemed to find the most comfort and satisfaction in Gospel music, both singing his favorite songs and listening to his own personal Gospel record collection, particularly Southern Gospel quartets.
Elvis' love for gospel music continued throughout his life. In the documentary film “Elvis on Tour,” he relates, "We do two shows a night for five weeks. A lotta times we'll go upstairs and sing until daylight - gospel songs. We grew up with it. It more or less puts your mind at ease. It does mine."
In the 1970s, his rock-and-roll concerts began to showcase Gospel songs, and furthermore, his back-up groups over those years -- the Jordanaires, the Imperials, the Sweet Inspirations, and J.D. Sumner and the Stamps -- were all Gospel groups. Elvis would sometimes read Bible passages to his audiences during concerts, and his existing concert tapes demonstrate his reverence as he chastens audiences to "please be quiet" as J.D. and the Stamps sang his mother's favorite hymn, "Sweet, Sweet Spirit." On a PBS documentary, Elvis relates how at one concert some young ladies in the audience stood holding a sign that proclaimed "Elvis is the King!" Elvis stopped the show, looked at the girls, pointed to the heavens, and admonished, "No, there is only one King and that is Jesus Christ."
Most who grew up during his hey-day do not associate Elvis with gospel music, but he wrote over 50 gospel songs, and despite Elvis' phenomenal success as a rock 'n' roll and pop singer, he received his only Grammy awards for his gospel recordings (1967 for Best Sacred Performance for "How Great Thou Art"; 1972 for Best Inspirational Performance for the album “He Touched Me”; 1974 Best Inspirational Performance for "How Great Thou Art.") Elvis is a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Here is "How Great Thou Art" with J. D. Sumner and the Stamps as his backup quartet...
His music and life were also deeply influenced by two of the top Southern Gospel music quartets of his time, the legendary "Blackwood Brothers" and the group fronted by his favorite singer, Jake Hess, "The Statesmen." Terry Blackwood attended school with Elvis and recounts, “When he walked into class, everybody would stare at him because he was dressed a little differently. His hair was different. He had long sideburns, and he wore second-hand clothes, bright and loud, a red coat and white shoes. “I spoke to him and we became friends.” Jake Hess is reputed to be one of the biggest influences to Elvis' eventual unique style. Elvis also had a lifelong bond with gospel legend J.D. Sumner, and it was J. D. to whom Elvis' dad turned when Elvis died.
Here are several of Elvis’ quotes: "Music is like religion--when you experience them both it should move you;” “Gospel music is the purest thing there is on this earth;" "Whatever I will become will be what God has chosen for me. The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year."
Elvis was troubled, but he constantly turned for spiritual guidance, sometimes to books, sometimes to individuals, but he seemed to find the most comfort and satisfaction in gospel music. He sang gospel music and his own personal record collection -- the records he actually listened to -- always contained a large portion of gospel records, particularly Southern Gospel quartets.
Elvis' love for gospel music continued throughout his life. In the documentary film Elvis on Tour Elvis said, "We do two shows a night for five weeks. A lotta times we'll go upstairs and sing until daylight - gospel songs. We grew up with it...It more or less puts your mind at ease. It does mine."
"Take My Hand, Precious Lord" (with some clips from the funeral procession)
" Lead Me, Guide Me" is a non-stage performance -- just Elvis and his friends after the evening's concerts were over, jamming around the piano until the wee hours of the morning (J. D. Sumner is next to Elvis, and you might recognize a very young Richard Sterban, for decades the bass for the Oak Ridge Boys, fourth from the left.)
His 1971 arrangement of "Amazing Grace"
"Peace in the Valley" (with photos from his Ed Sullivan Show appearance)