Scholastic Booktalk

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It's a long way from Tupelo to Graceland, from poverty to incredible wealth, from anonymity to legend, from a shy and awkward teenager to a superstar. Let Elvis, his family, and his friends tell you how he made that long and frequently difficult journey.

John Lennon said it best, "Before Elvis, there was nothing." Elvis Presley wasn't just the King of Rock and Roll, he was, in many ways, its father.

Before Elvis, black music was separate from white music. White music was for your parents: crooners like Perry Como and Frank Sinatra offered safe, boring music. Black music was the blues that talked about life and its hardness and sadness. It was about as far from crooning as you could get.

Before Elvis, there was no "teenage" music, because there was no "teenage" anything. White singers stole black songs, prettying them up so they wouldn't be too harsh for white ears. But rockabilly, country music with a driving rock and roll beat, was rearing its unruly head, sexy, rebellious, and white. The time was ripe for someone who could take the best of black music and white music and make something new from the combination.

The time was right for Elvis Presley, a white boy whose musical roots first ignored and then erased the lines between black music and white music. His music came from four great traditions: blues, gospel, country, and rockabilly, and took the combination several steps beyond where anyone else had dared to go.

He made the music his own, unique and compelling, with an intensity that reached out to fans, and drew them into it. Because of Elvis, American music and culture have never been the same.

But what happened to Elvis himself, the shy, honey-voiced boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, who was swept into the center of the hurricane that was fame and adulation and rock and roll? Follow him from a two-room shack to Graceland, and beyond, and find out.

This Booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart