did elvis steal his style of singing from other artists?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

PEOPLE ON QUORA asking me ques­tions about rock & roll music seems to come in waves. I have an­swered sev­eral in the past few days after going more than a week without—although there were a few that I couldn’t an­swer be­cause they con­cerned newer artists with whom I’m un­fa­miliar (newer meaning artists who recorded after 1980).

This ques­tion is now about sixty-four years old and Lawdy, Lawdy but only Miss Clawdy knows how many times it’s been asked: “Did Elvis Presley steal his style?You can prob­ably spend years looking up all the ref­er­ences to other rtists—black and white, blues and country, gospel and pop—that the young Presley lis­tened to and ad­mired and even aped as a young man.

Did Elvis “steal” from other artists to achieve his style? Of course, he did—just like every artist be­fore him and every artist after him!

The great Igor Stravinsky is re­puted to have said, “A good com­poser does not im­i­tate, he steals.” The more common and pop­ular ver­sion of this adage is “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Great artists steal is at its root about finding in­spi­ra­tion in the work of others, then using it as a starting point for orig­inal cre­ative output. Artists may re­con­tex­tu­alize, remix, sub­sti­tute, or oth­er­wise mashup ex­isting work to create some­thing new.” (Adam J. Kurtz)

Here the term stealing has nothing to do with any­thing as crass as pla­gia­rism, but rather that all artists are in­flu­enced by what came be­fore them, and a great artist takes ideas from those past mas­ters and makes those ideas his own. So much so that his work or style seems pro­foundly unique!

So please find my an­swer to the ques­tion “Did Elvis Presley steal his style?” be­tween the im­ages below.


BingCrosby mandolin 800

In No­vember 1966, I had bought Elvis’s new single If Every Day Was Like Christmas. It was fine single, dis­playing the latest in­car­na­tion of Pres­ley’s changing voice and style, very wel­come in­deed after the al­most in­tol­er­able sound­tracks of the mid-’60s. While playing the record on the family stereo, our neighbor Uncle Bob walked in. He stopped, lis­tened, and said, ” I never no­ticed how much Elvis sounds like Bing Crosby.” I hadn’t ei­ther, but this ‘new’ Elvis of 1966 did sound like he’d been lis­tening to a lot of der Bin­gle’s old sides and they had in­flu­enced his singing, es­pe­cially Pres­ley’s tone and phrasing on ballads.

Something from everybody

First, my an­swer is not in­tended to be in the least bit con­de­scending, al­though it is basic and sim­plistic. (As good an­swers should be, yes?)

To the ques­tion “Did Elvis Presley steal his style [from other artists]?” the an­swer is No, he did not.

To the ques­tion “Did Elvis Presley steal from other artists to achieve his style?” the an­swer is Yes, of course he did!

First, Presley had a re­put­edly near-perfect memory and lis­tened to every kind of music that was out there in his for­ma­tive years. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller con­sid­ered them­selves hip for knowing just about every black blues and R&B singer who had ever cut a side. When they met Elvis in 1957, they found that he knew every­thing they did plus lots more—especially gospel music.

Elvis drew from this en­cy­clo­pedic aware­ness and knowl­edge when he nicked some­thing from Big Boy Crudup, Wynonie Harris, Fats Domino, Clyde McPhatter, Big Mama Thornton, and Roy Hamilton.

Elvis drew from this en­cy­clo­pedic aware­ness and knowl­edge of all forms of pop­ular music and took a little some­thing from everybody!

When he took a bit from Hank Williams, Bill Monore, Hank Snow, Bill Haley, and Eddy Arnold.

When he lifted some­thing from Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Mario Lanza.

When he si­phoned a thing or two from Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Statesmen Quartet, and es­pe­cially from Jake Hess.

It’s sorta a little some­thing from every­body, just like just about every other artist in just about every other field of cre­ative endeavor.

It’s how these things work; it’s why, in hind­sight, there’s a rec­og­niz­able thread of con­ti­nuity leading up to and through (al­most) every new, avant-garde “break” with the past.

Did Elvis steal from other artists? Of course he did—just like every artist be­fore him! Click To Tweet

ArthurCrudup cigarette 1500

FEA­TURED IMAGE: As legend has it, in July 1954, while Sam Phillips was waiting for Elvis Presley to find a song to latch onto in the Sun studio and make it his own, the young singer re­leased his frus­tra­tion by strum­ming his guitar and belting out a lively ver­sion of That’s All Right. The song had been a hit for Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup for RCA Victor in 1947, one of many for the singer, guitar player, and song­writer in the ’40s.

When cou­pled with an equally spir­ited ver­sion of Bill Mon­roe’s take on Blue Moon Of Ken­tucky and re­leased as Sun 209, the record was a local hit and the be­gin­ning of Pres­ley’s ca­reerWhen Presley signed with Victor, he in­cluded two more Crudup songs in his orig­inal ses­sions, My Baby Left Me and So Glad You’re Mine.

While Big Boy’s in­flu­ence on the nascent style of Presley is in­dis­putable, the moniker “Fa­ther of Rock & Roll” hung on him by some critics decades after the fact is dis­putable, but that’s an­other story . . .



1 thought on “did elvis steal his style of singing from other artists?”

  1. He was IN­FLU­ENCED by many be­fore him as were many after him.As you say thats not stealing.The one thing no one could ac­cuse him of is him stealing that in­cred­ible voice he was given.


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