Elvis Presley, who might have Scottish roots, was a musician who changed the world – Susan Dalgety
It’s the Fourth of July. The day the USA celebrates its birth as a sovereign nation.
The Declaration of Independence was adopted on 4 July 1776 and Americans the world over mark the day with a public holiday, barbecues and lots of fireworks.
No-one was more American than Elvis Presley. His paternal ancestors were early immigrants to the US. Recent research suggests he may be a direct descendant of a Scot, Andrew Presley, who left Aberdeenshire in the 1740s, bound for North Carolina. Others say his family came from Germany.
Elvis’s maternal great-great-great grandmother was Cherokee. Morning White Dove married William Mansell, whose father had fought in the Revolutionary War that led to independence from Britain.
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And when Elvis picked up his guitar and sang That’s All Right in the Sun recording studios in Memphis, Tennessee, on 5 July 1954, he changed American culture forever.
Nothing evokes America's tortured soul more than Elvis singing If I Can Dream, his tribute to civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr, recorded two months after Dr King’s assassination in Memphis.
His performance of this now-classic is one of the many highlights of the new film Elvis, playing at a cinema near you.
As I was leaving the Omni last Monday, I bumped into a man wearing a t-shirt with the legend, “I may be old but I have seen Elvis perform on stage”.
It turns out that Gordon, and his friend Ian, are two of Elvis’s biggest fans. As teenagers, they saw him perform his last-ever live show in Indianapolis on 26 June 1977. Elvis died only a few weeks later, aged only 42.
Ian ran the Edinburgh fan club for many years. What he doesn’t know about Elvis’s music and life story, as well as his impact on America, is not worth recording.
In the 15 minutes I spent chatting to him, I learnt more about Elvis than I had even during my trip to Graceland – Presley’s family home – in 2018.
Elvis never played a concert outside North America. He died a lonely, if not alone, insecure man, heavily dependent on painkillers.
But the power of his music inspired two young Edinburgh lads to travel thousands of miles just to hear him play live.
And the force of his natural talent changed the world.