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Rhodes Faculty Tell Why Elvis Remains Relevant

Publication Date: 1/8/2014

Today marks the beginning of Rhodes’ 2014 spring semester as well as the birthday of rock ′n′ roll icon Elvis Presley. One of the courses being offered in the Department of History is “Elvis Presley and America,” taught by Dr. Charles Hughes, who says, "Elvis Presley is not only one of the most important musicians of the 20th century, he also is a symbol for some of the most significant changes in the history of the United States.”

According to Hughes, few figures in U.S. history have been as compelling and controversial as Elvis. Fans still purchase his recordings and come to Memphis to visit Graceland, which is one of the most visited home tours in the United States. At the same time, from the pages of historical scholarship to the stages of American Idol, his legacy remains a potent subject of discussion and debate, including his mixing of musical genres, his suggestive dance moves, the people he was friends with, and even his political views. “He reminds us that – no matter who we are – we all have the potential to change the world,” says Hughes.

In 2006, Rhodes’ Mike Curb Institute for Music became the steward of the house on Audubon Drive in Memphis that was bought by Elvis in 1956. It is being used for a student-produced house concert series called An Evening at Elvis’. Memphis-based band Star and Micey debuted the series in November. This spring’s line-up includes Blues Hall of Famer Bobby Rush.

John Bass, director of the Mike Curb Institute, agrees with Hughes that Elvis was one of the most influential people of the 20th century, not only in terms of music, but also in terms of broader culture. “His influence is still strong today. Plus, he was a Memphian! This is worth celebrating, and we are excited to be able to use his house on Audubon Drive as a resource to research the history of Memphis music and to support its future."

Tags: History, Music, Faculty