August 11, 2002


Suspicious minds : Even now, many African-Americans have an ambivalent relationship with Elvis Presley (Rene E Graham, 8/11/2002, Boston Globe)
Ilva Price was about 10 years old the first time she heard Elvis Presley's voice, pouring from her father's car radio in East St. Louis, Ill. She can't recall the song, can't recall whether it was a ballad or a rocker. What she remembers is how his voice, that smoldering rumble of a voice, made her skin tingle.

''I don't know why, but I just loved his voice,'' Price said. ''His sound just did something to me.'' It also did something to Price's father, who quickly turned off the radio and glared at his daughter.

''He got angry, and said I shouldn't be listening to that music,'' Price said. ''And that was that.''

Her father didn't need to say anything more. Long before Price ever heard Presley, she'd heard relatives talk about the singer. They called him a ''cracker'' who stole his musical style from black people, claimed it as his own, and then cursed them. Presley, they said, hated black people.

Twenty-five years after his death, that sentiment remains tangible for some African-Americans who still view with disdain the continued canonization of Elvis Presley as a cultural savior. For nearly a half-century, Presley has been hailed as the man who, with a growl and a twitch, shook this nation out of its conformist 1950s malaise.

Yet there remains a nagging belief that Presley, Mississippi-born and raised in the segregated South, disliked black people, although he was clearly influenced and inspired by their music and culture.

''It was something you heard, then it was something you just felt,'' said Price, who now lives in West Memphis, Ark., just across the Mississippi River from Memphis. ''And everybody knew about that comment, of course.''

It's kind of jarring to read that folks called him a "cracker" but then accused him of racism for using a racial epithet. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 11, 2002 12:10 PM
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