politics

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4 weeks ago

Elvis Presley was awarded the Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian honor — on Friday in a White House ceremony. Others honored were baseball great Babe Ruth and Israeli-American philanthropist Miriam Adelson, the wife of billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

While the posthumous awards to Ruth and Presley aren’t unprecedented — Reagan awarded the medal to Count Basie in 1985 and to composer Meredith Wilson in 1987 — the award to Presley is sticking in the craw of some who see the gesture as “a little nod to the good old days, back when black visionaries could invent rock-and-roll, but only a white man could become the king.”

Without a doubt, Elvis was deeply influenced by African American music

As a Mississippian, Elvis Presley grew up in Tupelo surrounded by the African American music that would be his inspiration and launch him and rock and roll into the national consciousness with other musicians, like Buddy Holly and Ricky Valens. But only Elvis would become ‘The King.”

There’s no denying the fact that Elvis popularized a style of music that was distinctly “not White” when he began his rise in the early 1950s. But while many on the left get worked up over the idea that Presley “appropriated” Black music to his own enrichment and popularity, it’s also wrong to think his doing so didn’t create a newly emerging connected bond through music during a racially stratified and contentious time.

Elvis’s music created new fans of the traditionally African American rock and roll and Blues music, not to mention Southern Gospel

He paved the way for future African American musicians, like Jimi Hendrix and Tina Turner, to become famous in their own rights a decade later.

Barely half a century after Elvis first shook his hips on television, we’ve forgotten just how segregated society was along racial lines. Today, we have any music by any artist of any genre accessible in our hands. It wasn’t always this way.

People can complain that Pres. Trump giving Elvis the Medal of Freedom ignores his controversial place in American music — sorry if I don’t share that view — but look what conversation it’s sparked.

Digital ink is being used to discuss the influences and contributions of African American musicians before and since Elvis was in the building because of Presley’s award from Trump today. Critics say Presley’s award ignores all of that, but the fact that we’re talking about it proves that’s not true. Elvis’s dissemination of the music he grew to love in Mississippi across the country and the world brought more people together across racial lines than pulled them apart. And for that, Trump’s awarding him the Medal of Freedom is certainly appropriate.

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