Sunday, August 19, 2012

Essay: Elvis sings, 'Peace in the Valley' and other Gospel songs by Peter Menkin

...his sincerity of offering his Gospel recordings to a large, large audience, has probably Evangelized many people, if not entertained with his Rock n’ Roll manner of singing for thousands and thousands through the years. No doubt Elvis is more than sympathetic to the Gospel music he sings in this set...

by Peter Menkin

Early Elvis: Photo by Sun Records

Tomorrow I hope to write about Elvis Presley and his recording CD set of multiple disks, “Elvis Presley, Peace in the Valley: The complete Gospel Recordings.” Elvis has a very nice voice, and though these spirituals are not to my listening ear all top notch in an equal sense, many are quite good. In fact, I enjoy this CD set greatly, and especially the words and the “rock” music sound to them. Some are traditional works, of course, and Elvis does a fine job in his inimitable style and identifiable voice so many, many times. I’ll give the recording five stars for those who like this kind of thing, and of course, Elvis. I bought it on

Here is something I wonder: Though Elvis is not a spiritual or religious leader, but more a man who as a child learned guitar in the Pentecostal, Assembly of God Church from his pastor, his sincerity of offering his Gospel recordings to a large, large audience, has probably Evangelized many people, if not entertained with his Rock n’ Roll manner of singing for thousands and thousands through the years. No doubt Elvis is more than sympathetic to the Gospel music he sings in this set, though some will find the limitation of his play and range as a singer one that hampers a full performance of some greater voices. Nonetheless, Elvis is a phenomenon of 20th Century music, and this popular rendition that he is identified with does seek the listener in an effective embrace. If you like his kind of style, and this Religion Writer thinks that just because the work exists and has for so long, it is a religious contribution to the genre, do buy the 3 CD set. At the least, it is an entertainment and a lot of fun. And afterall, it really rocks. Even the musical group contributing to the play is outstanding and no doubt top professional.

A criticism of Elvis is that he is a sinner, but of course one who passed away a long time ago—more than 30 years. It is said he died of an overdose of drugs, sadly. The medical cause on the death certificate was heart attack. The drugs he took were prescription medications, and further, it is said ill of the man in controversy even today that some Gospels he sang after practicing with his group and musicians were sung when he was manic, and so the mean rumor goes he is not a really religious man nor were they sung in a reverent frame of mind. I suppose the real inference is that his inspiration did not come from the “real” Holy Spirit.

This religion writer doesn’t know what frame of mind Elvis was in when these spirituals and even traditional songs were recorded that are on the 3 CD set. At the least, one can understand the words without too much difficulty. That in itself is a value, and this Religion Writer is not a judge of another man’s understanding of his own tradition of worship in song, especially a man of sincere tones in his singing as is Elvis in these works of his that are so understandable to so many listeners in the United States and the world. God works in mysterious ways, and if He wants Elvis Presley to stay up late and keep his musicians and singers busy into the morning hours working on singing Gospels with him, more power to the man during his lifetime. Elvis did say the Gospels gave him, “comfort.”


This Press Release first paragraph tells of the shrine and Graceland exhibit that interests so many Elvis fans, showing how Colonel Tom Parker had kept Elvis “alive” well past his mortal passing. In an interview with ABC’s Ted Koppel in 1980, Colonel Parker was asked if he was the one who made Elvis famous and who Elvis without the Colonel would have been–a lesser star, not so successful. Colonel Parker said that he, the Colonel, was not responsible for Elvis’ success as a phenomenon. But that he was the one that was there and so though people ask could anyone make Elvis a success, said again in his direct way that the Colonel was there to do the job. And the job he did. It is true as Ted Koppel learned, according to the Colonel, that all but one of Elvis’ songs were chosen by Elvis.

 MEMPHIS, Tenn. – June 27, 2012 – Elvis Week 2012, August 10-18, will feature more than 25 events including concerts, a daylong music festival spotlighting young Memphis musicians, an art exhibition, movie screenings, panel discussions, autograph sessions, and sporting events. Tickets for all Elvis Week events are on sale now at

That same Graceland Press Release announces a live extravaganza, perhaps in the mold of the kind of live performance such as that with the theme of Hawaii that made Elvis again an immensely and amazingly popular and enormously successful draw. It will be interesting to see what kind of action this contemporary extravaganza holds. Though this Religion Writer won’t be there for the event, it is clear by the promotion attempts of the Elvis Industry machine that they’ve managed to keep people interested in and active in enjoying Elvis long past his death: Elvis Lives is almost the apparent way in which this one-time, live performance is being presented.

 The much-anticipated Elvis 35th Anniversary Concert, on Thursday, August 16, at 8:00 p.m. at the 18,000-seat FedExForum, will celebrate Elvis’ iconic performances which span multiple music genres including rockabilly, gospel, blues, country, and of course, rock ‘n’ roll. The concert puts members of Elvis’ original bands and back-up vocalists on stage as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is projected larger than life on state-of-the-art screens. All music in the concert production is performed live except for Elvis’ voice.

As time has gone by, the memory of Elvis as a member of the Pentecostal, Assembly of God is also kept alive.

Birthplace, Tupelo, Mississippi

In the coming Elvis Week, there will be this “action:” Morning Gospel Singin’ Featuring First Assembly of God, Memphis 9:00 a.m…Experience the gospel music Elvis heard when he attended services at the First Assembly of God, Memphis.

Is the music in an Assembly of God church a bread for the congregants? That is the more likely than not and if one were to ask a Worshiper, the answer would be Yes. Though like Church music in general where some say it is an entry to heaven, where heaven meets earth and uplifts the congregant, it is part of the event of worship, as necessary to the worship experience as is the Sermon. In a similar way, Elvis 3 CD set of, “The complete Gospel Recordings,” offers its listeners a bread of spiritual music, all of it recognizable by name, and though not all true to solely the Assembly of God experience, a moving tribute to the entertainer’s willingness to play and sing to the Lord. An admirable practice, no doubt, so most would claim. 

In his second Ed Sullivan performance, Elvis Presley sang, “Peace in the Valley,” which liner notes writer Cheryl Thurber says was “…one of the songs that Elvis had sung a month earlier at an impromptu session at the Sun Studios with Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was the kind of song Elvis liked.”  Interestingly, Cheryl Thurber points out that as a then new movement the Pentecostals whose initial converts, most of whom like Elvis were Working Class, found “…new ways of experiencing the Holy Spirit. They did not condemn the popular music of their day.”

Youth-age Elvis’ Pastor, Reverend W. Frank Smith baptized Elvis at the age of 9, and since the Church “…had a piano and Reverend Smith would sometimes play his guitar as well he was able to interest Elvis with music and praise. Smith told [how] he taught Elvis a few chords and guitar rifts;  he noticed the boy already had an instruction book for the Guitar. It was when this poor family move to Memphis around 1948 when Elvis began attending Sunday School at the First Assembly of God.

Apparently, so we may surmise, his interest in music grew—Church being influential if not seminal in developing a degree of his taste and education in the matter of the bread Church music offers its members, and others. Here is a man who as an adult did feed on music and feed others, whether through his entertaining, interesting personage, or just that he, Elvis was known as an phenomenon.

Even Colonel Parker said so of him, and he knew Elvis well. Apparently, the myth of Elvis success and fame is groomed as a secret or hidden series of secret forces rather than the work of others promoting and managing him. If you reader recall, Elvis chose his own songs, even the Gospels he sang, and if there was

Divine Charism displayed in a movie

some Divine Charism helping him along the way with his fame, people who worked with him didn’t say so, but they did say it was his talent and work that did it all. But let us not debunk or ignore the mystery that was Elvis Presley in his force to bring in listeners and audiences to his singing and type of music. Maybe the time had just come for the sound that Elvis sang, and anyone could have done it, but it was he who was there and did the doing.

On the CD this Religion Writer purchased, “Peace in the Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings,” some of the songs are not as good as others. At least to this listener’s ear: The song “Life” is one of those. Yet despite a few not so good, almost all play well and engage the listener, not only for Elvis’ voice and his involved if not deep interpretations, genuine in their work by the singer Elvis. “When the Storms in Life are Ringing,” is just one I enjoyed. This is Rock n Roll as done by Elvis: Gospel singing.

When the Storms of Life Are Raging (He Will Hide)
by James Mc Granahan

When the storms of life are raging Tempests wild on sea and land I will seek a place of refuge In the shadow of God’s hand

He will hide me He will hide me Where no harm can e’er betide me He will hide me Safely hide me In the shadow of His hand

Tho’ He may send some affliction ‘Twill but make me long for home For in love, and not in anger All His chastenings will come

Enemies may strive to injure Satan all his arts employ He will turn what seems to harm me Into everlasting joy

Words public domain

“Without Him,” is another that has the sincere Elvis sound of genuine and musical work well done, and not that others don’t:

Without Him We Can Do Nothing
by Petra

How can, how can we who are dead to sin Live any longer therein? We’ve been, we have been called and loved and forgiven Our old life is forgotten (Chorus) Do you remember what he’s called you out of? Do you remember where you were? Let us not take advantage of his love That we forget that we have been forgiven Without Him we can do nothing I know, I know where I was when He found me With so much confusion around me He’s been, He has been all that we would let Him Without Him we can do nothing
Words and Music by Greg Volz / 1981 Dawn Tender Music (SESAC) a division of Jubilee Communications, Inc. Administered by Gaither Copyright Management

“So High,” the third and final choice of example of the work on the 3 disk set.

So High
by Stephen Speaks

Song: So High
Chords and Music by: Black Tern (Carlo Stephen I. Villa)
(Actually composed song ko po ito)

Intro: (c.p:// c – G – Am – F)

Verse I: (Do chod pattern)
You’re a queen and I am just a pawn in here
I can’t win, In a war where I’m within
I can’t decide, My role is just to sacrice
My self, for you

CHORUS: (Do chord Pattern)
You’re so high
You can reach the sky
You can get anything with just a simple smile
Your so high
You can pass it by
Well I am just a simple man with nothing

Verse II: (Do chord pattern)
Under the sun,I’ve got nowhere to run
But then you came, you’ve made my life undone
It’s so wierd, why is this happening to me
We’ll I don’t know, what I will do without you

Am                 c
Once I’ve seen you in my scene
F            G
You are just lying
Am              c
I already know everything
F            G
Please stop pretending…

And of course, Elvis sings, “Amazing Grace.”

Amazing Grace Lyrics
John Newton (1725-1807) Stanza 6 anon.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be, As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace.
When we’ve been here ten thousand years Bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’ve first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.

This essay-article on Elvis Presley originally appeared Church of England Newspaper, London. Contact the author Peter Menkin: .

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