I grew up in Kansas, my parents were Mennonites and their parent’s were immigrants from Germany who had escaped the religious persecution that had crept into that country at the time. We grew up unaware of racial discrimination, I learned about it from some of my childhood heroes like Jackie Robinson and later on as a tour manager working in the Southern states. I saw it first hand when I traveled with Little Richard who seemed to draw attention wherever he went. He was not only black but probably the most flamboyant artist I knew in those days, let’s say that working the South was an eye opener.
If it wouldn’t have been for Gospel and black music, rock ‘n’ roll would not have seen the light of day.
Whatever one says of David Bowie, it’s clear the legendary artist was always true to himself, never shying away from strange images and genre-bending music. And as Kim Renfro reported at Tech Insider, that streak of independence sometimes spilled over to social causes.
In the early 1980s, MTV was heavily criticized for neglecting black artists. In one case, MTV didn’t air Rick James’s “Super Freak,” leading James to complain to Rolling Stone: “Me and every one of my peers — Earth, Wind, and Fire, Stevie Wonder, the Gap Band, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson — have great videos. Why doesn’t MTV show them?”
Bowie, however, was a white artist who was getting a lot of attention from MTV. So in an interview with the network, he confronted MTV VJ Mark Goodman about discrimination against black artists:
“Elvis & Racism” By David Troedson: In 1957, a magazine printed a lie about Elvis, not the first one, not the last one, but one that has been often passed on through the years and at times artists of today like to throw out the slur when needing a headline, so there are those that believe Elvis was racist. Yes, we know that the notion that Elvis was a racist is preposterous. It’s as stupid now as it was then, but here is our definitive response to this nonsense:
When the ‘establishment’ accused Elvis Presley of being vulgar, of being deliberately sexual, they did not mean this. This was the cover for what was really meant, what was really feared, and that was that Elvis would lead to equal rights and racial integration. And not just Elvis any white person singing rock ‘n’ roll. Carl Perkins was warned to not do his show. Elvis was simply the number one guy and therefore got the most attention.
Following his ‘Milton Berle’ show, Elvis was savaged by critics who described his leg-shaking, hip-swivelling performance as ‘noxious’ and his singing as ‘caterwauling’. Often the criticism had a racist edge, since Elvis was singing what was considered ‘black music’. One critic summed up his performance as ‘the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos’. A Catholic weekly ran its criticism under the banner, ‘Beware of Elvis Presley’. Ilva Price, an African American now living in West Memphis, TN, recalled how her father, angry about rumours (later found by ‘Jet’ magazine to be fabricated), that Elvis had stolen ‘their’ music and was a racist, quickly turned off the radio when he noticed her daughter’s reaction to his voice, then called him a ‘cracker’, a racial epithet as disgusting as any other …
Boston Globe Interview by Renee Graham, published on August 11, 2002: Sammy Davis Jr : ‘I have a respect for Elvis and my friendship. It ain’t my business what he did in private. The only thing I want to know is, ‘Was he my friend?’, ‘Did I enjoy him as a performer?’, ‘Did he give the world of entertainment something?’ – and the answer is YES on all accounts. The other jazz just don’t matter’. ‘Early on somebody told me that Elvis was black. And I said ‘No, he’s white but he’s down-home’. And that is what it’s all about. Not being black or white it’s being ‘down-home’ and which part of down-home you come from’. ‘On a scale of one to ten, I would rate Elvis eleven’.
James Brown and Elvis Presley were good friends and admired each others talents. James authored two books, and one contains this quote about Elvis: ‘I wasn’t just a fan, I was his brother. He said I was good and I said he was good; we never argued about that. Elvis was a hard worker, dedicated, and God loved him … I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There’ll never be another like that soul brother’.
James was was one of the celebrities who attended Elvis’ funeral. George Klein : ‘One of the first phone calls I remember receiving came from James Brown, who wanted to tell me how broken up he was over the news. He asked if he could come to the house during the private viewing’. ‘I checked with Priscilla to make sure it was all right, and late in the afternoon James came up to join us – the first of many major artists to pay their respects. ‘I remember being taken aback by how truly distraught James was … Then he sat motionless in the corner of the living room for a long while before joining the rest of the mourners in the den. In his autobiography, Brown wrote, ‘His death hit me very hard. When he died, I said, ‘That’s my friend, I have to go’.
Shortly after Elvis died, James Brown recorded Love Me Tender as the b-side of his hit record The Spank. Brown did this touching spoken intro: ‘I want to talk about a good friend I had for a long time and a man I still love, Brother Elvis Presley. You know, if he were here right now, I’m sure he would say the same thing for me. I loved the man and he was truly the king of rock and roll. We’ve always had kind of a toss up. Elvis and I. The King of Rock And Roll and I’m the King of Soul. So I wanted to say this for the people, Elvis, and myself’