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Elvis: Gospel According to The King

1 hour
First broadcast:
Saturday 26 December 2009

Radio 2 presents two weeks of special programming leading up to Friday 8 January - when Elvis Aaron Presley would have celebrated his 75th birthday.

The season covers the music, the films, the brand, and Elvis Presley's personal life, including a 1970 meeting with President Nixon to discuss his desire to be appointed "Federal Agent At Large". Presenters include Martin Sheen, Jerry Hall, Rob Brydon and Suzi Quatro, who travels to Graceland 35 years after Elvis invited her to his home.

First up is Gosepl According To The King, in which Jerry Hall explores the importance and influence of gospel music in Elvis Presley's life. Long before he became known as the "King of Rock 'n' Roll", Elvis was a poor kid from Tupelo, Mississippi who was fascinated by the power and the passion of gospel music.

He grew up singing spiritual music with his family in his local church and when they moved to Memphis they regularly attended all night gospel sessions at the Ellis Auditorium. As a teenager Elvis was allowed to sneak in the back door because he couldn't afford a ticket. After he became a huge rock star Elvis would regularly return to the 'all night sings' and join his favourite gospel groups on stage.

The only three Grammy Awards Elvis won were for his gospel recordings, he incorporated gospel songs into his stage repertoire and even convinced studio bosses to include gospel songs in several of his movie soundtracks. Throughout his life it was the gospel music that he turned to for inspiration and consolation: "Elvis was never happier than when he was surrounded by his friends belting out the gospel songs he remembered from his childhood when he attended church with his parents" (Priscilla Presley)

The documentary features members of gospel groups who recorded and performed with Elvis including The Jordanaires, The Imperials & The Sweet Inspirations; musicians DJ Fontana, James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Jerry Scheff and Ronnie Tutt. There is also archive material from Sun Records founder Sam Phillips who recorded the famous "million dollar quartet" sessions on 4 December 1956, when Elvis sang gospel songs with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.


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