How Elvis Sparked the Rock ‘n’ Roll Era on July 5, 1954

Elvis Presley invented rock and roll

Have you heard the news? The explosion of rock ‘n’ roll as a cultural force was ignited 60 years ago this week, on a hot day in Memphis when a truck driver named Elvis Presley was called to a recording session by producer Sam Phillips, the savvy owner of Memphis Recording Studio.

The city of Memphis is marking the milestone with a series of “60 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll” events this weekend. Sirius XM’s Elvis Radio channel, which broadcasts from the singer’s Graceland estate in Memphis, has an abundance of special programming set to commemorate the moment when the alchemy in the studio was just right to spark a musical revolution.

SEE ALSO: PHOTOS: Elvis Presley and the Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll

On July 5, 1954, Presley joined guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black at Phillips’ studio in an effort to generate some sides for Phillips’ newly launched Sun Records label. The session resulted, mostly by accident, in the recording of the bluesy “That’s All Right,” among other tunes. The next day they went back to into the studio and recorded a rockabilly-flavored take on the Bill Monroe classic “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

By week’s end, according to Elvis historian Peter Guralnick, Phillips had the recordings in the hands of a few tastemaker Memphis DJs. Once “That’s All Right” hit the airwaves, Elvis was on his way.

But Presley wasn’t exactly an overnight sensation. He’d first gone to Memphis Recording Studio in the summer of 1953 to cut a do-it-yourself record of the ballad “My Happiness,” a hit for the Ink Spots. (Cost: $3.98 plus tax.) Phillips’ secretary, Marion Keisker, was intrigued by his voice and made a note of his name and phone number.

Around this time, Phillips’ studio had been rented by Chess Records and other established labels to record blues artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner and B.B. King. Phillips was famously prescient in anticipating the convergence of African-American musical styles with country and pop into a phenomenon that didn’t yet have a name.

As Keisker later recalled, according to Guralnick, Phillips often declared: “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” This was the 1950s and the South, after all.

Phillips had Presley back in his studio in January 1954 to record a host of songs. But none of them captured the sound Phillips was looking for, according to Guralnick. Presley’s tastes leaned toward pop ballads in the vein of Dean Martin and Billy Eckstine.

At the July 5, 1954, session, Phillips took another shot on Presley, this time pairing him with Moore and Black. The spark of “That’s All Right,” a variation on a tune Presley knew from Mississippi bluesman Arthur Crudup, came during a break when the three thought they were just goofing around. Phillips finally got what he wanted.

By the end of the month, Presley had incited a frenzy at his first professional concert performance in a Memphis park. Sun Records released more Elvis singles (including “Blue Moon,” “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” “Baby Let’s Play House” and “Good Rockin’ Tonight”) as his regional hits became national sellers.

Elvis would leave Sun for the big leagues of RCA Records by the end of 1955. But Phillips secured his place in musical history, and made a tidy profit even if it wasn’t $1 billion.

Phillips’ vision of Presley as the one who could achieve crossover success by expropriating African-American influences was reinforced by the very first reference to “Elvis Presley” in Variety, which came in the Aug. 24, 1955, weekly edition.

The story wasn’t about Elvis per se (those came just a few weeks later) but about a movement in Houston led by the local branch of the NAACP to clean up the airwaves of sexually suggestive “race music” played on stations that targeted African-American auds.

A sub-committee of the city’s Crime and Juvenile Delinquency Commission, formed at the behest of the NAACP and a professor at Texas Southern University, came up with a list of 26 “objectionable” tunes and threatened stations with FCC complaints if they were played.

“First act of the group was to list 26 waxings mostly by indie labels, that had bothered Negro leaders as degrading or possibly contributory to juvenile delinquency. Most of the 26 were by Negro artists,” Variety reported.

The list of included Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” B.B. King’s “Everyday I Have the Blues,” the Dominoes’ “Sixty-Minute Man,” the Midnighters’ “Annie Had a Baby” and “Work With Me Annie,” Bull Moose Jackson’s “I Want a Bowlegged Woman” and two versions of “Good Rockin’ Tonight”: one by R&B hitmaker Roy Brown (who wrote the infectious “Have you heard the news/there’s good rockin’ tonight” refrain), and one by the singer who would soon be on a first-name basis with the world.

Postscript: The word “invented” in the original headline has stirred an angry response from some readers who argue that it diminishes the contributions of many African-American musicians. As the story notes, Presley and Phillips were greatly influenced by a range of musical styles and artists. Crediting a single “inventor” of rock ‘n’ roll is as hard as determining who invented television or the automobile, and the headline on this story was not meant to indicate an absolute in this regard. The July 5, 1954, recording session detailed here marked a turning point in musical history, but in deference to the concerns raised by readers we have adjusted the headline to better reflect the nuance of the story.


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    1. lars says:

      wow you people dont know the history of rock music at all.
      Elvis never said he created rock music,he said often he was inspired by black artist,
      he was a huge fan of fats domino and a friend of his.
      learn your music history before comment.
      black people didnt create rock music,it was a spanish song in the 40’s that had that beat.
      learn your music history,people today dont know anything about history.not looking bright for our future.

    2. Jessica says:

      The outrage in this piece of cultural propaganda, is that it’s posted by VARIETY – the recorder of popular culture information/data. VARIETY archives hold the irrefutable proof, that this attempted furtherance of the deification of Elvis Presley as a lie; like there aren’t millions of people alive who actually lived through this period in history and can denounce this piece on uninformed revisionist journalism.

      African American culture is the skeleton for American popular culture style, colloquialisms, and music. Black Americans created practically every genre of American popular culture music: work songs, Negro Spirituals, minstrel music, cakewalk music, the original ballad(Carry Me Back To Old Virginie), Ragtime, Roaring 20’s dance music(The Black Bottom), New Orleans Jazz, the Blues, the Big Band Sound(Duke Ellington & Count Basie), Be Bop, Swing, Modern Jazz, the Jazz Ballad, Stride piano, Ditties (Fats Waller), Do-Wops, Rhythm and Blues, Rock n’ Roll, Gospel music,The Motown sound, The Memphis sound, The Philadelphia sound, dance craze music(The Chicken, The Twist, The Jerk etc.), Funk, Psychedelic Funk, Protest music (Nina Simone & Gil Scot Heron), contemporary pop(Stevie Wonder), Modern Jazz, Creative Jazz, Disco, New Wave(Earth, Wind & Fire), Rap and Hip Hop.

      Black America has produced the world’s greatest composers/lyricists/arrangers/musicians,
      the greatest singers and the world’s greatest dancers. The list is too long to print here. African American culture holds the deed on the house of American popular culture.

      • kma says:

        Sounds like you’re reading from a book, and don’t now much about music.Earth Wind and Fire as New Wave? Smoke another one and try again, lol. Elvis was a good singer and significant whether you like it or not. Just think of all the great black artists who admired him….

    3. Chantel says:

      Elvis never started rock and roll. African Americans did. Due to segregation many music companies only promoted white artists who coppied it such as elvis Presley and glorified them for stealing black music to claim “theirs” get ur history right

      • kma says:

        Elvis didn’t start rock and roll, but he was a significant and important artist. His early records were among the earliest and best “rockabilly” ever recorded. Many black artists had hits in the rock and roll era, so there’s no need to deny Elvis his due, he was universally admired by black audiences at the time. He also had a great deal of respect for R&B and Blues and could sing it very well, unlike Pat Boone or Georgia Gibbs, to name a couple of folks who “whitewashed” R&B stuff in those days.

    4. Joseph Scott says:

      “The word ‘invented’ in the original headline has stirred an angry response from some readers who argue that it diminishes the contributions of many African-American musicians.” It also diminished the contributions of the artists who weren’t African-American who made rock and roll before Elvis did, such as Bill Haley with “Rock Around The Clock” and Curtis Gordon with “Rompin’ And Stompin’.”

    5. asdf says:

      Come on, really? I’m not a black guy but I know this is pure propaganda.

      Little Richard was pre-Elvis. Let’s give credit to the real king of rock and roll. Rock and roll is a black thing! Then it was subsequently adapted by whites. Elvis doing rock is very similar to Eminem doing hip hop. Sure it takes a white man to bring it to the masses but the roots are always black. I’m not saying Elvis was a thief like some people claim, I acknowledge he had his own thing going, he’s bad ass for sure. I really like Elvis but to say he was the sole inventer of Rock and Roll is not right.

      A more apt thing to say would be rock and roll was launched by Little Richard, Elvis and others around 60 years ago.

      Rock and roll was just refined blues and lets not forget about Muddy waters and Robert Johnson who were there even before Little Richard.

      • Joseph Scott says:

        Little Richard was not one of the earliest rock and roll musicians either. Early examples:

        “We’re Gonna Rock” Wild Bill Moore recorded Dec. 18, 1947 (#3 R&B in 1948)
        “Good Rocking Tonight” Wynonie Harris Dec. 28, 1947 (#1 R&B in 1948)
        “Rock And Roll” Wild Bill Moore 1948
        “Hole In The Wall” Albennie Jones with Sam Price and his Rockin’ Rhythm 1949 (_Billboard_’s 1949 review of the record called it a “rocker”)
        “Rock The Joint” Chris Powell 1949
        “Rock The Joint” Jimmy Preston 1949 (#6 R&B)
        “Rock That Boogie” Jimmy Smith 1949
        “Boogie At Midnight” Roy Brown 1949 (#3 R&B)
        “Butcher Pete” Roy Brown 1949
        “Rockin’ All Day” Jimmy McCracklin 1949
        “All She Wants To Do Is Rock” Wynonie Harris 1949 (#1 R&B)
        “Little Red Hen” Johnny Otis 1949
        “Jump And Shout” Erline “Rock And Roll” Harris 1949 (she was using that nickname in print in 1949)
        “Oh Babe” Kay Starr 1950 (#7 pop)

      • cleaner100 says:

        Another post by a non-historian. This is tiresome. They changed the article to “Sparked,” what else is there to be done? Should there be no articles allowed about Elvis’ Sun Sessions?

        • cleaner100 says:

          @Joseph Scott – True, but this article is about a 1954 recording session significant within the annals of rock’n’roll, regardless of who came first. Haley and Domino recorded hits before Elvis, but each had a different sound. Berry recorded his first single “Maybelline” on May 21, 1955, over ten months after this session. “That’s All Right” was a local hit and not a national one, but over the years it made substantial impact.

        • Joseph Scott says:

          “They changed the article to ‘Sparked,’ what else is there to be done?” Elvis didn’t spark “the rock and roll era” either: Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino all had top ten pop hits with rock and roll in 1955 before Elvis had his first pop hit in 1956.

    6. 2000_Man says:

      The early Sun records of Elvis were the first bona-fide “rockabilly” records. As a result, Elvis was an innovator. Unfortunately, many see Elvis as an icon and not an artist. I’m tired of this becoming a white vs. black issue – great music knows no boundaries, and should have the effect of bringing us all together.

      There were many influences on Elvis – blues, country, R&B, gospel, pop crooners, etc. Simply saying “he stole from black people and that’s it” is such a short-sighted view, and there is much evidence to show that the “racism” claim is a myth. Many Elvis records charted high on the R&B charts (as late as 1963), sometimes higher than they did on the pop listings. Yes, you heard me right! Elvis appealed to black audiences at the time.

      Despite the mindless oppression, and societal separation of blacks and whites in the 50’s and 60’s, the music made by both races was often very close. Be honest – the first time you heard “Johnny B. Goode,” did you know Berry was black? What about “Kansas City” by Wilbert Harrison? Those guys were just as much influenced by Country as Blues. It was the time in American popular music history where it was most difficult to distinguish between a “black” or “white” artist. Also, it was the first time that a number of black artists became genuine stars, as big as their white counterparts. It’s true that Elvis was the biggest star, but Berry and Little Richard (among others) were extremely popular.

      As for the “King of Rock and Roll” title, it’s nothing more than a nickname. Don’t read too much into it. James Brown was the “Godfather of Soul” and Aretha is the “Queen of Soul.” Does that mean that we should not listen to any other Soul artists? Of course not! Elvis was given that nickname, he didn’t give it to himself.

      It’s true that Elvis did not have the overall musical talent of a guy like Chuck Berry. Both men could sing, but only Berry was a great songwriter and guitarist. Still, that doesn’t change the quality of the best Elvis records – someone had to write them if it wasn’t Elvis, and he had excellent guitar playing behind him from guys like Scotty Moore. Berry could do it all, which is a remarkable and rare gift, but just because it took more collaboration to make Elvis’ records doesn’t make them any less valid. A legitimate argument could be made that Berry’s lyrics did more to establish the “vocabulary” of rock and roll, but we’re splitting hairs here – feel free to enjoy both Chuck and Elvis.

      • Joseph Scott says:

        “The early Sun records of Elvis were the first bona-fide ‘rockabilly’ records.” Rockabilly meant rock and roll music mixed with hillbilly music. Bill Haley, Curtis Gordon (“Rompin’ And Stompin'”), Hardrock Gunter (e.g. “Birmingham Bounce” on the Bama label), Zeb Turner, and others recorded rock and roll music mixed with hillbilly music, recorded rockabilly, before Elvis did.

        • Joseph Scott says:

          Defining “the classic rockabilly sound” as sounding like Elvis on Sun and then praising Elvis on Sun for sounding like “the classic rockabilly sound” is circular, but if we do it, Little Junior pretty much had the classic rockabilly sound on “Love My Baby,” didn’t he.

        • David says:

          This discussion has morphed into who really invented what. Consider the following: Plato followed Socrates and Aristotle followed Plato. While each borrowed and relied on the previous, to whatever extent and however directly or indirectly, no one denies the originality of their philosophical streams. Same is true of Brahms, Handel,Mozart, Beethoven et al. Do we reject the originality of their music just because none of them really created anything in a rarified pre-do,re,mi vacuum? For that matter is any Shakespearean play an original? All the folklore, myths, legends he drew on for his storylines already existed. Today, the day when Einstein’s theory of relativity has been finally verified and validated, do we claim that he theorized the concept in a vacuum? The genius of every one that I have cited lay in creating a dimension and a stream where none previously existed from what was already in existence. And that’s the correct way to claim Elvis’s genius.

        • cleaner100 says:

          Thanks for posting. Those are significant artists, and they should really be more well known than they are. On the other hand, what is regarded as the classic rockabilly “sound” probably began with Elvis’ Sun sides. They were not only a combination of rock and hillbilly music as you say, but featured slap-back echo on the voice, and reverberated electric lead guitar. These sounds were later utilized by the likes of Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent, among others. The types of songs were similar, but the sound was unique.

    7. Leonardo says:

      Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

    8. patricia says:

      Amazing. Nobody mentions the B-side of SUN single 209: Blue Moon of Kentucky. Elvis stole Country music! You still don’t get it.

    9. Arjan says:

      What a pity that this has become a discussion about color. Presley’s music was also strongly influenced by the country music tradition, and that’s what makes his early recordings such a unique hybrid. ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’, ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’, ‘Just Because’ and many others come from that country tradition. His music blended the different styles and that’s why it’s often referred to as rockabilly. He grew up listening to different music styles, loved it all, and you can hear all those influences on his early records. It was so different that the radiostations back in ’54 didn’t know what to make of it. R&B stations felt that his records sounded too country, and country stations felt that his records sounded too R&B. Little Richard and James Brown always said that Elvis opened the doors for them, made them mainstream, and to quote Little Richard: “Thank God for Elvis!”.

    10. Come on, Variety. You perpetrate the ongoing falsehoods about African-American contributions to America and don’t even bat an eye? Your publication USED to be noteworthy. I guess some things change, and some things don’t. Keep up the bad work.

    11. Ruth Engelton says:

      “Crediting a single “inventor” of rock ‘n’ roll is as hard as determining who invented television,” and yet it didn’t stop you from pronouncing Elvis as so. It’s obvious Ms. Littleton would choke rather than just say the community rock n’ roll was birthed from- that is African-American. Touche. Elvis is white jesus, and African-American artists had many contribution. Smh. This country.

    12. Dan says:

      Such a poor angle for a worthy topic. Variety shows it’s a dinosaur with this haphazard nonsense.

    13. M says:

      He didn’t “SPARK” anything either. It was already on FIRE before he was even thought of. This article is BOGUS & makes Variety look pretty stupid. This is a prime example of how certain cultures within America live in & truly believe many false realities in this country. Things will never change until people start acknowledging the REAL truth.

    14. “Sparked Rock&Roll”? are you really serious?

      • Joseph Scott says:

        Fats Domino recorded rock and roll (e.g. “Please Don’t Leave Me”) before Elvis recorded anything. Also, Fats Domino had a rock and roll recording in the top ten in the _pop_ charts in 1955 before Elvis had anything in the pop charts, in 1956. “Rhythm and blues is just rock and roll.” — Elvis Presley, 6/8/56 interview. “Rock and roll was around a long time before me, it was really rhythm and blues. I just got on the bandwagon with it.” — Elvis Presley, 9/2/57 press conference. “[Rock and roll] existed long before I did. It was called rhythm and blues.” — Elvis Presley, 11/10/57 press conference. “Rock and roll was here a long time before I came along…. Let’s face it; I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that. But I always liked that kind of music.” — Elvis Presley to _Jet_ magazine, 1957. “That’s the real king of rock and roll (gesturing to Fats Domino).” — Elvis Presley, 7/31/69 press conference.

    15. RembrandtRubens says:

      It is unfortunate the negative comments about Presley’s contribution to music and global culture are grounded in such disjointed reasoning and subjective interpretation of historical data documentation. The absurdity of the reasoning behind some of the anti- Elvis comments below is quite remarkable. The other day I happened to catch a rerun of an old comedy show which featured a guest appearance by Milton Berle. A black comedian accused the Jewish musicians of copying and stealing black music. Berle showed mock disbelief and then dead panned,” Fine. Then stop playing instruments the white man invented!”

      If you read Shakespeare you will note almost all the events and even some characters he used in his plays already existed. His genius lay in using the events and the real life persons to construct story lines that, for the first time, interpreted human actions and motives from a psychological aspect, before the field of psychology was even formed. Shakespeare, then, borrowed from the past and the present (from different cultures, histories etc.) to develop a completely new genre of plays. He offered us the knowledge of psychology before it’s advent as a formal academic line of study and enquiry. Just because he borrowed events and characters not only from merry ol’ England but from other cultures and histories do we deny his genius and originality? Even though Plato followed Socrates and Aristotle followed Plato, in that order, each developed new strains of logic and philosophy that were branches of the tree that was Socrates. Similarly, DaVinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Beethoven all were influenced by the works of their predecessors. Just because they were inspired and influenced and, thus, indebted to others does not impugn their genius and originality.

      Take Andrew Lloyd Webber, as another example. As he says his dream was to develop a form of music that was a ” fusion of Elvis and Mozart.” The result was rock music that accommodated the Broadway musical format. Before that nobody thought rock music could ever be adapted for that genre of art form. Again, we see how one dreamer fused a new art form from art strains that were already in existence. No wonder President Obama honored him with a medal at the last Lincoln Centre Honors ceremony.

      As Elvis and others after him have defined it, “Rock ‘n’ Roll music basically grew from gospel and rhythm and blues. Others have been adding to it…” LSD inspired Acid Rock, folk rock, jazz fused rock music of Blood Sweat and Tears, Mersey Beat, Raga Rock, to cite a few as examples.

      Finally, history informs us discoveries and inventions are often the result of fortuitous accidents, serendipity, chance occurrences, creative destruction, illogical deviation from restraints of formal thought process. Rock and Roll on that day in that room was such a discovery.

      • Chantel says:

        White man didn’t invent instruments especially not the guitar along with a few other instruments just search up where did the guitar come form it will tell u a black guy in Spain created it and white People (Greeks) just named it

      • Dude… sorry. you know Drugs are bad for you. It makes you spout out nonsense acting like it’s truth. Go to rehab man…

    16. Wow. This has to be the most erroneous article i’ve ever read about anything. Bar none. Did someone really get paid to write this?? Wow.

      • Rodney Jackson says:

        In 1939 Big Joe Turner a young blues shouter joined forces with legendary boogie woogie piano players Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons and recorded Roll ‘Em Pete. This combination of boogie woogie and blues was the beginning of rhythm and blues. Boogie woogie was the result when some gifted brother put African Drum rhythms on a piano about 50 years earlier. In the late 1940’s people like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley played that same sound on their guitars. In 1951 Ike Turner took rhythm and blues and targeted it for teenagers with the classic Rocket 88 the first Rock and Roll recording. The music was still R & B just the lyrics were written for teens. In 1954 Elvis became the first white R & B singer and he was just a weak imitation of black artist that preceded him but they were banned from TV, radio and record stores. That is why Elvis sold many more records that them. Elvis was a mediocre talent at best.

        • Joseph Scott says:

          “was the beginning of rhythm and blues” “Rhythm and blues” was a euphemism that became popular in the late ’40s to describe all music that was most popular with black Americans, including what was already known as “jump blues.” Big Joe and his friends weren’t somehow the people who started “rhythm and blues” in any meaningful way. For instance, Bill Broonzy recorded the jump blues “You Do Me Any Old Way” in 1937, before Joe recorded anything. “In 1954 Elvis became the first white R & B singer” No, e.g. Doc Pomus was making R&B records as a singer (very heavily influenced by Big Joe) before 1950. “In 1951 Ike Turner took rhythm and blues and targeted it for teenagers” It was targeted to teenagers in 1949. E.g., “Tell your folks you’re gonna stay out late, tonight we ain’t gonna hesitate/We gonna rock and roll at the hole in the wall tonight,” “Hole In The Wall” by Albennie Jones with Sam Price And His Rockin’ Rhythm, Decca, 1949.

    17. Not_Listing says:

      The change in title is NOT SUFFICIENT. Elvis did not “spark” any rock ‘n roll movement. All Elvis did was pirate Black music. Because white people were so racist at that time, Elvis could take a lyric, tune, song, musical composition originated by a Black artist, re-make it with a minor change or two and white people would buy his version. He did not SPARK anything. Today, he would be a copyright thief.

    18. Dave J says:

      Thanks for offering me the first ever context-appropriate opportunity to try out my new slang term “columbusing”. This article, and the author of it are “columbusing” rock & roll’s origins. How can they and the managing editor not understand this?

      • Joseph Scott says:

        “Elvis did not ‘spark’ any rock ‘n roll movement.” Right. Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino all had top ten hits on the _pop_ charts in 1955 with rock and roll recordings before Elvis had his first pop hit, in 1956. And the rock and roll sound had been top ten on the blacks charts since 1948, e.g. “Rock And Roll” by Bill Moore, which was #3 R&B nationally in 1948 (contrary to what Joel Whitburn has written). “Rhythm and blues is just rock and roll.” — Elvis Presley, 6/8/56 interview. “Rock and roll was around a long time before me, it was really rhythm and blues. I just got on the bandwagon with it.” — Elvis Presley, 9/2/57 press conference. “[Rock and roll] existed long before I did. It was called rhythm and blues.” — Elvis Presley, 11/10/57 press conference. “Rock and roll was here a long time before I came along…. Let’s face it; I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that. But I always liked that kind of music.” — Elvis Presley to _Jet_ magazine, 1957. “That’s the real king of rock and roll (gesturing to Fats Domino).” — Elvis Presley, 7/31/69 press conference. Fats Domino made the rock and roll recording “Please Don’t Leave Me” before Elvis recorded anything.

        • Joseph Scott says:

          “e.g. ‘Rock And Roll’ by Bill Moore” This should read “e.g. ‘We’re Gonna Rock’ by Bill Moore.” “We’re Gonna Rock” and “Rock And Roll” are two different recordings by Moore.

    19. EmmaChatter says:

      “Phillips often declared: ‘If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.’ This was the 1950s and the South, after all.”

      This last sentence is another example of how ahistorical and weasley this article is. Phillips’ quote is the true story behind why Elvis “sparked” the popularization of Rock and Roll. It was because white Americans were racists, as was the music industry and radio. I don’t think this reality of the time needs to be understated because it was this racism which made Elvis so popular versus the numerous black musicians he mimicked. 19 year old Elvis recorded his firt Sun Records single release only two months after the history Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation case. This timing is vital.

      Elvis Presley’s first side was a cover of “That’s All Right,” a 1940s R&B song written and originally recorded by black bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. The “B” side of the single was a cover of “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” a 1946 tune written and popularized by Bluegrass musician Bill Monroe.

      The single showed that black and white music could live side by side on a 45 RPM slice of vinyl in 1954, even if the men who wrote the songs often could not in public life. In some ways, Elvis’ first single did what the SCOTUS could only dream of doing at that time, integrating black and white culture in one neat package that would have enormous influence on millions of Americans.

      But it’s the fact that this melding of black and white culture was delivered through the voice of a white teenager vs. the original black men who wrote and created this music demonstrates the racial realities of the mid-1950s.

      White audiences may have been ready for black-inspired Rock and Roll, but they didn’t want to embrace music that was actually performed by black artists because they were racists. When radio audiences responded enthusiastically to the first airing of Presley’s “That’s All Right,” Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips went all out of his way to let listeners know that Elvis was white. So Elvis began a long line of repackaging art that black artists originated first. Then, as other parallels throughout American history show, these black innovators were often left out of the discussions, receiving little or in many cases, no credit for the work they made. Then people turn around and say, black artists contributed nothing, when everything they make gets appropriated (fancy word for stolen) and their history goes unwritten, unrecognized.

    20. The first headline was done in English and it was – at best – grossly inaccurate.
      The second headline was done in that “other” language – forkedtonguelish – and now the inaccuracy is “nuanced”.
      Please try again.

    21. mikewinchester3 says:

      I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

    22. mikewinchester3 says:

      I don’t wanna live this planet anymore.

    23. AllyKane says:

      Even the postscript is inaccurate.

      • Justin S. says:

        It shows how much she fails to see her egregious mistake.

        “The word “invented” in the original headline”
        Here she feels that it’s a word that sparked the response and that changing the word in the article, while still maintaining its spirit, will change the response from the readers.

        “has stirred an angry response from some readers who argue that it diminishes the contributions of many African-American musicians.”
        Even here, “diminishing the contributions” is very passive-aggressively saying the same thing. The complaint not that the contributions were overlooked, but that you plainly stole the credit. No one is saying that the inbound pass wasn’t recorded, we’re saying that you credited the slam dunk to someone else, if you understand the basketball metaphor.

        “As the story notes, Presley and Phillips were greatly influenced by a range of musical styles and artists.”
        She is still using her fallacious story as a benchmark for her argument. Influenced he was alright, but he didn’t create it. I can give you an idea that leads you to go create something, and therefore influence you. But if you just do what me and my friends are doing, you are just..well…doing what me and my friends are doing.

        “Crediting a single “inventor” of rock ‘n’ roll is as hard as determining who invented television or the automobile, and the headline on this story was not meant to indicate an absolute in this regard.”
        and yet it did…Still anyone who know anything will point to Rocket 88…

        The July 5, 1954, recording session detailed here marked a turning point in musical history, but in deference to the concerns raised by readers we have adjusted the headline to better reflect the nuance of the story.
        The story has no nuance. The session is as much a turning point in history as the release of Justin Bieber’s first single will be in fifty years. What something means to you may not mean as much as you want it to on the greater scale.

        PS And I actually love Elvis. I actually found him to be a great entertainer. But facts are facts and whitewashing opinion pieces such as these must be challenged.

    24. Derick says:

      Presley himself never claimed to have invented rock ‘n’ roll. He always talked about how much he was influenced by black gospel music and the blues, which he listened to on the radio growing up in Tupelo, Miss.

      • Joseph Scott says:

        “Rhythm and blues is just rock and roll.” — Elvis Presley, 6/8/56 interview. “Rock and roll was around a long time before me, it was really rhythm and blues. I just got on the bandwagon with it.” — Elvis Presley, 9/2/57 press conference. “[Rock and roll] existed long before I did. It was called rhythm and blues.” — Elvis Presley, 11/10/57 press conference. “Rock and roll was here a long time before I came along…. Let’s face it; I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that. But I always liked that kind of music.” — Elvis Presley to _Jet_ magazine, 1957. “That’s the real king of rock and roll (gesturing to Fats Domino).” — Elvis Presley, 7/31/69 press conference. Fats made the rock and roll recording “Please Don’t Leave Me” before Elvis recorded anything.

        • Joseph Scott says:

          And Fats had his first top ten _pop_ hit with a rock and roll recording in 1955, whereas Elvis had his first top ten pop hit with a rock and roll recording in 1956.

    25. I thought at some point the author was going to reveal he was doing a tongue-in-cheek article. I kept reading and it never came. So the author is serious and really believes that Elvis created rock and roll. wow. I am amazed. can the people at variety really be that stupid? I bet they think Christopher Columbus discovered america too huh?

    26. jacqueline says:

      You can’t seriously think Elvis Presley invented Rock n Roll music! Omg. Read a correct history book people! Black musicians had been playing rock and roll long before Elvis came along! I’m white and I know this!!

    27. Vince says:

      Music is for everyone to share and to love no matter what color or creed you are, there is a lot of jealously in the idea that the undisputed King Of Rock n Roll stole anything from anyone… Ya might as well say he stole country too from whites…. The Man took all his influences, black and white, country and blues, and gospel and did indeed invent something, we call it Rock n Roll because it’s not all black and it’s not all white and it’s not straight r n b or country…. It not because he was white that he gets the credit. The fact iof the matter is he was a tremendous talent and however you want to spin it there was no black or white artist his contempory that had the amazing vocal and musical talent he had. He always have credit to his influences black and white so those of you who don’t know your ass from your forehead learn about the man before you speak… You never walked a day in that mans shoes. There’s a reason he has sold more records that any other solo artist on the planet and it ain’t cause he’s white.

      • Truthteller says:

        Shut up Vince. Rock and roll wasnt invented by Elvis. Unless Little Richard and Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker were doing something completely different than history remembers. And as for selling records…yeah because white people have NEVER stepped over black artists to buy white ones…***cough*** Vanilla Ice ***cough***

    28. Dee says:

      Very irresponsible headline Variety. Everyone knows Elvis didn’t invent rock n roll.

    29. STOP BLAMING ELVIS FOR STEALING BLACK MUSIC ! Elvis loved black music, he grew up in the south with black people, he was born in Tupelo Mississippi, and then moved to Memphis Tennessee. He was surrounded by black people and black music, he loved it and he broke down the doors of racism by performing it on live TV in the 50’s. If some of you haters took the time to do some simple research you would know all of this. Watch this video and learn >>

      • Justin S. says:

        You can say Justin Bieber is not a racist, as he loves Black music, works with black musicians, and has adopted a black style. until you hear the racist jokes. In fifty years I can see how the miseducated granddaughter of a belieber will write an essay saying that Justin Sparked the R&B style that is popular now

      • no… he’s racist. Elvis made the director of Viva Las Vegas fire Sammy Davis Jr because he didn’t want to act with a Black man. so shut up with that nonsense.

        • Joseph Scott says:

          “Elvis made the director of Viva Las Vegas fire Sammy Davis Jr because he didn’t want to act with a Black man” Baloney. Elvis acted with the black woman Kitty White in the movie King Creole in the ’50s.

        • elliot gainway says:

          Where the hell did you hear that fairytale??? That NEVER happened. Elvis and Sammy were great friends.

    30. Libralil says:

      Elvis never claimed to have invented Rock and Roll or anything else. Nor did he claim the title, King. He pointed to his friend, Fats Dominoe, and said, “there is the real King of Rock and Roll.” Elvis described himself as an entertainer. His success came because he was an incredibly talented singer, he could read an audience and he happened to be one of the most attractive humans alive.

    31. Justin S. says:

      When you commit such an egregious act of whitewashing you are basically further propagating the worldwide belief that the Eurocentric view has purposefully corrupted history to its advantage. In the world of Accounting, when one is found to have committed fraud, the firm must go back and review their books in the past to determine how infected the books and ledgers have been by this fraud and how it will affect the book of business. This brazen revisionist history has become such a pathological standard in the white Community that it is the main reason why, upon reviewing the “Books”, fallacies such as Christopher Columbus’ discoveries and the racial makeup of the one believed to be Jesus of Nazareth immediately come under suspicion. The aggressive appropriation of the creation of others is further emboldened by the fact that many of the pillaged communities were too powerless to stand up for themselves. The victors wrote the history, and often distorted to their own agenda. Shame.

    32. Alan Motley says:


    33. Armando Slade says:

      Justin Timberlake invented R&B…Eminem invented Rap…Robin Thicke invented Soul…We get it guys …. we get it.

    34. says:

      I would like to be shocked at the article and the comments by the status quo, but cannot bring myself to stoop so low. Elvis invented Rock & Roll? Laughable. What Elvis did was copy Black artists and make White America comfortable with Black music. It’s always been that way. Can Elvis be credited with the popularity of Rock & Roll in America? Sure, as long as you mention that he became famous for Rock & Roll because of the color of his skin. Those were very different times. Black people weren’t credited for many of their accomplishments, and Whites were credited for everything including things that they stole. Columbus did not discover America in spite of the Federal holiday that bears his name. Justin Timberlake did not make R&B popular. Neither Eminem nor Macklemore discovered nor created rap music. And for the record, Black people are not racist. To truly be racist, one needs to be a part of the group with the economical, educational, political and legal hegemony to influence the rights of another group. Racism is when you can totally annihilate a group such as Native Americans for their land and then pretend that the land was discovered. Racism is when you rob an entire continent of millions of inhabitants and subject to them to human rights violations. Racism is when you take the aforementioned group and create laws, remove educational, work and housing opportunities and pretend as though they did it to themselves. Racism is when you have stricter drug laws for drugs used by Black people (crack) and more lenient sentences for drugs used by Whites (powder cocaine) because your group is the only group in a position to write the laws. It sickens me that every time a group has been oppressed by the hegemony of the status quo, the status quo pretends to be the victim. What’s truly sad is those members of the status quo that consider themselves patriots and thump the constitution and their right to free speech, all while attempting to deny the rights of the oppressed to voice their concerns, speak on their history and invalidate the lies. Shame on you, Variety

    35. audiophile says:

      *culture vulture

    36. audiophile says:

      LMAO at all the racist trolls screaming reverse racism! That’s racist in itself and further shows your attempts to silence those who speak up against blatant inaccuracies and injustices.

      Your thinking is so myopic that you think just because we have a black President, we live in a post racial society. LOL You racists have become even more overtly racist SINCE our black President was elected and haven’t dared to hide your racist ways.

      That said, Elvis was a culture culture just like the plethora of other white artists who copied the music of black people and called it their own without giving credit. I guess it’s in racist’s DNA to be racist.

      At any rate, pick up a book on history of music and African Americans instead of considering this revised history as education.

      Oh and watch this video called ‘Fear of a Brown Planet” on reverse racism so you racists can stop going around calling black people racist because we’re actually speaking up and against your bigotry and not cowering calling you “Ya’sir” “Yes Ma’am”.

    37. Jethro Davis says:

      There is a new trendy word going around that I heard at work….When ever someone comes along and takes credit for work someone else did or claims something that someone else previously owned, it called “Columbussing”….This is a prime example!

    38. Djayo says:

      WOW… This is so wrong, and damn near racist. This is like claiming Columbus discovered America… Someone should be fired over this.

      • You know white folks swear they invented everything. You can’t tell them they’re wrong because that’s reverse racism. LMAO….

        • Anthony says:

          They did…you know…the most angry people on this planet today are black women? why you all walking around talking so loud that folks need ear plugs and pointing your finger and shaking your head like you got a nervous tic or something? Elvis was the best…now get over it!! lmao

    39. J. Jones says:

      Seriously!? Are you just testing the waters to check whether anyone is still alive that would object to how much of a lie is exhibited in the title and content of this article? There was “rock and roll” before anyone even cared about what happened with that former truck driver. You really need to stop promoting that myth.

    40. obama_commanderInChief says:

      How do u invent something by copying an existing product? The very [slim] article mentions presley doing covers and being a white face of black sound/style. At the least variety should change the title to respect the pioneers. Ps- the beatles were running around uk doing isley brothers covers too. Learn the truth

    41. Melvin Perrow says:

      1) you can’t be racist when you aren’t part of the hegemony. Bigoted yes, racist no. Words are awesome when you know the definitions. 2) Thank you for illustrating why black people get upset so often by white comments. You don’t care if you’re right, just as long as you’re right enough for other white people. 3) It’s been well documented that rock and roll was created in the Black community long before Elvis or the Beatles. Rock and roll grew out of the blues and other influences in the black community. Elvis (and every other white person credited with the rise of rock and roll) heard the music, liked it and copied the style. Part of the reason he was such a success is because of his “illicit” gyrations and “raunchy” music that were both so similar to what the Blacks were doing, that white culture rallied against it for a long time before crowning him “The King”. 4) We’re not pissed off about not being white, we love being black. We’re pissed off that our African heritage was taken away from us by your ancestors, and now the history we created for ourselves is being taken away by you. Jazz, the Blues, Rock and Roll, Hip Hop, open heart surgery, Jesus. If it’s important and not white, you eventually turn it on it’s ear until it is. Elvis is the inventor of rock and roll in the same way Eminem is the inventor of rap. No one said they aren’t good, but you can’t give someone credit for discovering something that other people had already been doing. #PleasestopColumbusingBlackness

      • says:

        Oh please. No one has created such an international sensation? Try Michael Jackson.

    42. tanbglefooot says:

      Great comment!!! Well said. You know the history.

      • elliot gainway says:

        The only criticism I have with your comment is saying that Elvis “copied” the style. The style was ingrained in Elvis just like it was in black artists because Elvis grew up and lived in black neighborhoods and went to black churches. Elvis’ performing Rock&Roll came natural. When he went to record his first records he was trying to copy Dean Martin and Perry Como. It was during a break that he launched into “That’s Alright Mama” in his natural style and the rest is history.

    43. elvis did change the world…you cannot steal a sound, you are an amalgamation of all the sounds you hear…nobody owns a certain sound …pure jealousy…learn the melieu of the south between 1940-1960…read the book …RACE , ROCK AND ELVIS …

      • Joseph Scott says:

        “you cannot steal a sound” No, but if you listen to “Love My Baby” by Junior Parker from 1953 and “Where Did You Stay Last Night” by Arthur Crudup from 1951, you can hear that you can copy a sound.

      • yes you can… what are you on… meth? Elvis took a sound and moves from the Black culture and and made it for white audiences. point blank. and that book is to be disregarded because it doesn’t give the full spectrum in the formation of the creation of the genre. Did it mention Louis Jordan?

    44. Reggie Osse says:

      You guys feel morally good about this continued white washing of history? So shameful.

    45. To remix a rap quote: Do you guys actually read music history or do you just skim through it?

    46. Ha ha ha… they meant how he discovered Rock-n-Roll for White people! Still trying to hold onto this lie. Someone who knows nothing about music or music history wrote this mess.

    47. Byron Franklin says:


    48. g. thorne says:

      yeah. no. Elvis did not invent, well, ANYTHING, really. He was a hell of a performer but let’s not get crazy.

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