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24 September 2014
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Faith Features

Lifelong Elvis fan Johnny Cowling

All Shook Up at the Cathedral

Well ah-bless my soul, the gospel music of Elvis Presley will be performed at Truro Cathedral in August. BBC Cornwall's Elvis expert Matt Shepherd explains why the King of Rock and Roll was always proud of his gospel songs.

Elvis Presley may have been known throughout the world as The King of Rock and Roll, but his passion lay in gospel music.

One of Elvis' many Gospel compilations
Ultimate Gospel - Elvis Presley CD

Throughout his career Elvis would spend hours performing his favourite spirituals in the privacy of his Graceland home, and during breaks from recording sessions in the studio.

Presley's backing singers all enjoyed early success recording gospel favourites including The Jordinaires, The Sweet Inspirations, and JD Sumner and The Stamps.

In a career that saw countless gold and platinum records, worldwide number ones, and Hollywood blockbusters, Elvis only ever received three Grammy Awards. These were for his gospel recordings.

'How Great Thou Art' won the Best Sacred Performance award in 1967, 'He Touched Me' got the Best Inspirational Performance in 1972 and a live version of 'How Great Thou Art' won the Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance in 1974.

Canon Perran Gay and Johnny Cowling
Canon Perran Gay and Johnny Cowling

At the height of Elvis' career in 1957, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show to silence his critics. He succeeded with just one song, a gospel tune, 'Peace in the Valley'.

This was followed by an Extended Play single in the same year with four religious recordings by Elvis and the Jordinaires. In the '60s at the height of his movie career, Elvis once again turned to gospel music. He scored a UK number one with 'Crying in The Chapel', and two massive albums, 'His Hand in Mine' and 'How Great Thou Art'.

In his legendary '68 Comeback Special, Elvis featured an eight minute gospel medley, and a few years later when he was constantly touring, Elvis would always perform favourites like 'How Great Thou Art' and 'The Impossible Dream'.

But Elvis' love of gospel music goes back further than his recording career. As a three-year-old boy Elvis would attend the Assembly of God Church. He would often walk right up to the gospel choir and try to join in.

Truro Cathedral
Truro Cathedral

Possibly the ultimate honour for Elvis came many years after his death.

The King of Rock and Roll was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in November 2001. He was already a member of the halls of fame for rock'n'roll and country music, the latest honour made Elvis the only entertainer to be inducted into all three.

So the fact that Truro Cathedral is producing a special Elvis Gospel night comes as no surprise to fans of the legendary singer. Get there early, it is likely to fill up quickly.

Cornwall's Johnny Cowling will be singing his heart out, performing the classic gospel tunes of Elvis on Sunday 6 August at 6.30pm.

Johnny has visited Graceland, the fabled home of Elvis and was runner-up of 10,000 entrants to GMTVs ‘Search for Elvis’ competition in 2001.

"Elvis came from the deep South in America where religion and singing Gospel were deeply ingrained. He might be known as the King of Rock ‘n Roll but his great love was always Gospel music. It was his great inspiration; it’s what he returned to when things got tough," explains Johnny.

Johnny Cowling performing the '68 Comeback
Johnny as the 1968 Elvis

The Elvis night is part of a programme that has seen both Jazz and Country & Western style worship take place in Truro Cathedral for the first time.

Canon Perran Gay, the Cathedral’s Head of Worship, explains: "We want this to be partly like an Elvis 'gig' and partly like an act of worship. I am genuinely excited by the challenge of ‘engaging with’ people who wouldn't normally come to the Cathedral. We believe that God gives us many ways in which to worship him, this is just one of many alternatives."

Essential Information:

 The Gospel Music of Elvis Presley will be performed at Truro Cathedral on Sunday 6 August at 6.30pm.

last updated: 07/07/06
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