Up to the mid 1950s black artists had sold miniscule amounts of their recorded music relative to the national market potential. Black songwriters had mostly limited horizons and could only eke out a living. But after Presley purchased the music of African American Otis Blackwell and had his "Gladys Music" company hire talented black songwriter Claude Demetrius, the industry underwent a dramatic change. In the spring of 1957 Presley invited African American performer Ivory Joe Hunter to visit Graceland and the two spent the day together, singing "I Almost Lost My Mind" and other songs. Of Presley, Hunter commented, "He showed me every courtesy, and I think he's one of the greatest."
However, certain elements in American society began to simply dismiss Presley as no more than a racist Southerner who stole black music. However, in the words of Black R&B artist Jackie Wilson, "A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man's music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis." "Racists attacked rock and roll because of the mingling of black and white people it implied and achieved, and because of what they saw as black music's power to corrupt through vulgar and animalistic rhythms. ... The popularity of Elvis Presley was similarly founded on his transgressive position with respect to racial and sexual boundaries. ... White cover versions of hits by black musicians ... often outsold the originals; it seems that many Americans wanted black music without the black people in it," and Elvis had undoubtedly "derived his style from the Negro rhythm-and-blues performers of the late 1940's." "Many White people would be surprised to learn that Elvis Presley's hit 'Hound Dog' was first popularized by a Black woman, Big Mama Thornton, (but it was written by the white songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller). Elvis and his music live on the collective memory of Whites, yet Little Richard, some of whose work Elvis borrowed, has been forgotten." A southern background combined with a performing style largely associated with African Americans had let to "bitter criticism by those who feel he stole a good thing," as Tan magazine surmised. No wonder that Elvis became "a symbol of all that was oppressive to the black experience in the Western Hemisphere". What is more, Presley was widely believed to have said, "The only thing black people can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records." It was claimed that the alleged comment was been made either in Boston or on Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person. A black southerner in the late 1980s even captured that sentiment: "To talk to Presley about blacks was like talking to Adolph Hitler about the Jews."
In his scholarly work Race, Rock, and Elvis, Tennessee State University professor Michael T. Bertrand examined the relationship between popular culture and social change in America and these allegations against Presley. Professor Bertrand postulated that Presley's rock and roll music brought an unprecedented access to African American culture that challenged that 1950s segregated generation to reassess ingrained segregationist stereotypes. The American Historical Review wrote that the author "convincingly argues that the black-and-white character of the sound, as well as Presley's own persona, helped to relax the rigid color line and thereby fed the fires of the civil rights movement." The U.S. government report stated: "Presley has been accused of "stealing" black rhythm and blues, but such accusations indicate little knowledge of his many musical influences." "However much Elvis may have 'borrowed' from black blues performers (e.g., 'Big Boy' Crudup, 'Big Mama' Thornton), he borrowed no less from white country stars (e.g., Ernest Tubb, Bill Monroe) and white pop singers (e.g., Mario Lanza, Dean Martin)," and most of his borrowings came from the church; its gospel music was his primary musical influence and foundation."
"A danger to American culture"
By the spring of 1956, Presley was fast becoming a national phenomenon and teenagers came to his concerts in unprecedented numbers. When he performed at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair in 1956, 100 National Guardsmen surrounded the stage to control crowds of excited fans. The singer was considered to represent a threat to the moral well-being of young American women. The Roman Catholic Church denounced him in its weekly magazine in an article headlined "Beware Elvis Presley."
In an interview with PBS television, social historian Eric Lott said, "all the citizens' councils in the South called Elvis 'nigger music' and were terribly afraid that Elvis, white as he was, being ambiguously raced just by being working-class, was going to corrupt the youth of America." Robert Kaiser says he was the first who gave the people "a music that hit them where they lived, deep in their emotions, yes, even below their belts. Other singers had been doing this for generations, but they were black." Therefore, his performance style was frequently criticized. Social guardians blasted anyone responsible for exposing impressionable teenagers to his "gyrating figure and suggestive gestures." The Louisville chief of police, for instance, called for a no-wiggle rule to halt "any lewd, lascivious contortions that would excite the crowd." Even Priscilla Presley confirms that "his performances were labeled obscene. My mother stated emphatically that he was 'a bad influence for teenage girls. He arouses things in them that shouldn't be aroused.'"
According to rhythm and blues artist Hank Ballard, "In white society, the movement of the butt, the shaking of the leg, all that was considered obscene. Now here's this white boy that's grinding and rolling his belly and shaking