Over the years since his death in 1977, many books, big screen and television movies, and documentaries have been written and filmed about the legend that was Elvis Presley. Despite the fact that he’s been dead for the last 30 years (although you’ll still find some diehard fans and conspiracy theorists who don’t believe that), Elvis has remained a high-profile figure.
Hardly a year passes without an Elvis sighting. His birthday, January 8, never passes without commentary in the news and on the street. And most people, not just fans, remember the date of his death – August 16, 1977. Add up those numbers, 8 plus 16 plus 1977, and you get 2001 which was also the name of the number Elvis used to close his concerts, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Channel 13 on Sirius radio champions itself as “all-Elvis all the time.”
With all of the books and other materials available, not to mention the fan sites on the Internet, it wouldn’t seem that another book of interest about Elvis would be possible. That’s what I was thinking when I saw the title of Joe Moscheo’s new book, The Gospel Side of Elvis. Still, I was curious, and once I started reading was pleasantly surprised.
But first a little background is necessary. Joe Moscheo was a member of the group of gospel singers called The Imperials. The group has been around since 1964 and has had several member changes since then. The Imperials still exist as a Southern gospel contemporary Christian venue.
Gospel music has roots in the church, primarily in the South, and is attributed to the African-American culture. Since its inception, the music has been divided between white and black singers. Even back in the 1950s, Elvis came under fire for listening to black music and bringing it into the rock and roll scene. While reading Moscheo’s book, I discovered that Elvis’s interest in that music was longer and deeper than I’d previously believed.
Looking back over Elvis’s career, you can see that he’s never been far from gospel music. This is one of the trends that Moscheo brings out in his narrative. In fact after Elvis’s success on NBC in 1968 in a show that’s come to be known as the ’68 Comeback Special, Elvis got the opportunity to play the International Hotel in Las Vegas. Normally his backup band was the Jordanaires. They had been with him on the television show and had sung with him for a number of years. Unfortunately, due to success they’d been having, the group wasn’t able to do the Vegas shows.