10 Times Elvis Presley Stole From Black Artists
Elvis Presley’s name has been circulating the news in light of a new musical, drama film debuting this summer simply titled, Elvis. The late, great “King of Rock and Roll” is known most for his signature sound and unforgettable dance moves. However, the Black community recognizes him as a musical thief, stealing from lesser known Blues artists.
The upcoming film Elvis will explore Elvis Presley rises to fame in the 1950s while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. It is set to debut in theaters June 24th.
Presley has had an affinity for Black music and culture since he was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. He grew up on the Black side of town. Presley would later run with the likes of Ike Turner and B.B. King. It is evident that Black musicians greatly influenced him, yet because of his whiteness, doors were opened for him that were not available to Black musicians.
“I always wanted to sing like Billy Kenny of the Ink Spots,” Presley told Jet Magazine in 1957 according to The Daily Beast. “I like that high, smooth style. I never sang like this in my life until I made that first record—‘That’s Alright, Mama.’ I remembered that song because I heard Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup sing it and I thought I would like to try it.”
It is widely known that Presley stole one of his biggest hits, “Hound Dog” from talented, Black vocalist, Big Mama Thornton. Prominent musicians and producers explained their personal encounters with the Rock and Roll star. Some called Presley a a friend and even brother, like James Brown. While others referred to him as a crook, who’s entire discography was built off the backs and skills of Black folks.
Legendary producer and musician, Quincy Jones, shared his personal interaction with Presley, which left a bad taste in his mouth.
“No. I wouldn’t work with him,” Jones told The Hollywood Reporter. “I was writing for [orchestra leader] Tommy Dorsey, oh God, back then in the ’50s. And Elvis came in, and Tommy said, ‘I don’t want to play with him.’ He was a racist mother — I’m going to shut up now. But every time I saw Elvis, he was being coached by [“Don’t Be Cruel” songwriter] Otis Blackwell, telling him how to sing.”
Surely, Presley wasn’t the first nor the last White artist to build his fame or legacy at the hands of Black people. There is no real justice the artists he has stolen from can receive now that they are gone. Still, we honor Black Music Month in their memory by highlighting the many artists Elvis Presley stole from throughout his career in the gallery below.
1. Big Mama Thornton – “Hound Dog”
Not Elvis thought he was doing something with his version. Tuh!
2. Lloyd Price – “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”
Black artists add the soul that Presley and other White artists wish they could contribute to a record.
3. Chuck Berry – “Memphis, Tennessee”
Elvis sang quite a few of Berry’s hits like Memphis, Tennessee, Maybelline and Johnny B Goode. Like sir, one wasn’t enough?
4. Lavern Baker – “Tweedle Dee”
What’s missing from Elvis’ version of “Tweedle Dee” — innate talent.
5. Ray Charles – “What’d I Say”
Actually never knew this was anyone else’s song but Mr. Charles. Nice try though Elvis. Elvis’s version is from the movie Viva Las Vegas, which has him playing at some sort of whites-only dance party. Gross.
6. Roy Hamilton – “Unchained Melody”
Hamilton was a huge influence on Elvis’s ballad singing. His version sounds nearly the same as Hamilton’s.
7. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup – “So Glad You’re Mine”
Big Boy Crudup will give you the slow and smooth blues. Meanwhile, Presley speeds up his classics with his interpretation of “blues” meets “rock and roll.”
8. Junior Parker – “Mystery Train”
Once again, a faster version of the exact same song is Elvis Presley’s watered-down rendition.
9. Fats Domino “Ain’t That A Shame”
It is said that Fats Domino was such a huge influence on Elvis that when he was around, Elvis didn’t like to be called “The King”.
10. Arthur Gunter – “Baby Let’s Play House”
It’s just crazy that the man didn’t even bother to change any lyrics or the title. He just downright stole the music from these artists. Wild. Here’s Presley’s version.