5 on Friday - 48 - Elvis Gospel

by Julia Smith

Travis at Trav's Thoughts invites everyone to lay down a short set of music that takes their fancies for his 5 on Friday meme.

So in honor of The King - whose birthday rolls around this weekend - here are five of my favorites from his gospel collection.

Elvis' only Grammy wins came from his gospel recordings. And in my opinion, he did his best singing when he directed his voice to the Almighty. These are from the rhythm-and-blues traditions of the African-American Southern singers Elvis grew up with and emulated. Before Elvis bridged the cultural divide between black and white music, the only people who would have heard anything so unlike the ramrod-straight hymns as these gospel songs were the Southern Baptist congregations that were segregated and whose music was considered underground.

Elvis was accused of stealing black music from the get-go, but since he always acknowledged his reverence for his musical influences, I personally consider him a cultural integrator. He had this to say about his gospel and delta blues background:

"[They] been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin' now, man, for more years than I know. They played it like that in their juke joints and nobody paid it no mind 'til I goosed it up. I got it from them.

Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now and I said if I ever got to a place I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw."

1 - I, John

Oh, well
I, John saw a mighty number
Way up in the middle of the air

Old John got scared and he wanted to run
Well he wanted to run but his feet wouldn't go
Cause he felt the gospel cutting like a two-edged sword

And he heard a voice that said John, you take a look
And read what you see and then you write it in a book

- William J. Gaither

2 - So High

Well, he's so high
(So high you can't get over Him)
So wide
(So wide you can't get round Him)
So low
(So low you can't get under Him)
Great God Almighty
(You must come in at the door)

- Traditional

3 - Run On

Well, you may run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Let me tell you God Almighty gonna cut you down

Go tell that long-tongued liar
Go tell that midnight rider
Tell the gambler, rambler, backbiter
tell them God Almighty gonna cut them down

- Traditional

4 - Milky White Way

I'm gonna tell my mother howdy
Howdy, howdy when I get home
Yes, I'm gonna tell my mother howdy
Howdy, howdy when I get home
I'm gonna shake my mother's hand
I will shake her hand that day
That's when we walk
On the milky white way
Some of these days

- Traditional

5 - Swing Down, Sweet Chariot

Why don't you swing down, sweet chariot
Stop and let me ride
Swing down chariot
Stop and let me ride
Rock me, Lord
Rock me, Lord
Calm and easy
Well, I've got a home on the other side

- Traditional


  1. He was wonderful with the gospel songs. That period when all the young people were listening to black radio when their parents weren't around. So much black music was getting white covers and was so ripe for someone to blend the two and usher in the era that led to all the Civil Rights actions. Music is such a reflection of society.

  2. You're speakin my language, now. lol! I grew up on Elvis and I love his music more and more the older I get - there's no cure. Anyway, I discovered his gospel music later, tho, and one of the cool things about living in Vegas is knowing that just a couple of miles from my house, he used to unwind from his performances by playing gospel music until the wee hours of the morning a the Las Vegas Hilton. I especially love his live recording of "How Great Thou Art" - nobody else comes close.

    And somehow, he often ends up in my fiction. :)

  3. Jamie - My uncle used to sneak over to Whitney Pier in Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to listen to the black musicians in the after-hours clubs, being a musician himself and hungry for the 'real thing'.

    Kathy - My parents were also big Elvis fans, and when my dad passed away a few years ago, my sister and I chose 'How Great Thou Art' to be sung by the choir mainly because we knew how much our dad loved Elvis' version of it. If we could have had Elvis' recording played, we definitely would have, but it was a Catholic church, and that was a no-go.

  4. Once again - you have enlightened us! I loved your post - and I agree with you - Elvis was an integrator - he didn't steal - he always acknowledged the roots of his music.

    Thank you for this.

    Happy New Year!

  5. I agree that some of his best work was in gospel music. His musical roots are there. I have a theory that gospel music connected him so tightly to his mother and to his dead twin Jesse Garon, and that's where the passion and emotion can be heard in his recordings.

  6. Hes always been a religious musician.i love his music.thanks for the nice post.good luck!


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