Elvis: No stranger to controversy!

 Music vs. Elvis Presley………

Elvis' 'grunt and groin' antics incite the establishment!

EIN Spotlight, April 2014

In 1957, Jazz World magazine said of Elvis:

".....one can’t help getting certain satisfaction out of the fact that he won’t be around for long.  He’s not music."

When Elvis exploded on to the national and international scene in 1956 with the indecent gyrating of his hips while singing the devil’s music and leading impressionable, immature young girls into a life of sin, the reaction of the “establishment” was strong and swift.  The narrow minded commotion was deafening and, given history, represented a not unexpected overreaction by a right wing, conservative media and to a lesser extent, a shell shocked adult population.  Calls to expunge the devil’s music by burning Elvis’ records, ban his public performances given their lewd nature and for parents to lock up their daughters, were commonplace and it seemed the louder the protest the more successful Elvis, the ‘devil incarnate’, became. 

While today many look back on the over-reaction to Elvis’ ‘grunt and groin antics’ with more than a hint of amusement, given the cultural standards of mid 1950’s America, the reaction was in many respects understandable, albeit very misguided.

In the first issue of Jazz World*, in March 1957, editor and publisher, Chester Whitehorn, examined the rise of Elvis Presley and assessed it in comparison to the careers of two other entertainers who were the subject of incredible media obsession, Frank Sinatra and Liberace.  Whitehorn’s article was titled: Music vs. Elvis Presley.

On Sinatra, Whitehorn observed:

Young Frankie, if you recall, had this cute little thing he did with his voice.  And every time he did it, a chorus of female squeals was heard in the background.  Frankie’s little trick hit the femmes right smack between the libido.  He was small and skinny, but the boy was bedroom personified.

Somehow, the young Frankie lost his mystic power in a comparatively short time.  He was talked about as a has-been.  The girls stopped passing out under his spell.  Frankie-boy was yesterday’s child.

But there was a difference between Sinatra and the average flash.  He really had something on the ball.  Buried under the heap of freak publicity was a legitimate talent, a voice and a style that really belted out a song, a spark and drive that showed, not only in his music, but in his invasion of the acting profession and his personal life as well...........In the end, the talent made it.

On Liberace, Whitehorn wrote:

THE LIBERACE STORY, on the other hand, seems to be moving rapidly toward quite a different climax.  It’s difficult to believe that the strange success of Liberace ever happened at all.

TV critic John Crosby wrote: “If women vote for Liberace as a piano player...it raises grave questions about their competence to vote for anything.”  To which Liberace replied: “My brother George felt badly.  He read the article, and he cried all the way to the bank.”

In concluding his dismissal of the flamboyant and (IMO) uber talented Liberace (who of course enjoyed a more than half century performing career, remaining one of Las Vegas’ top drawcards and a sell-out performer in concert halls worldwide, until a few months before his death on February 4, 1987), Whitehorn states:

At the same time as [his film] Sincerely Yours was laying its egg, rumor had the dimpled maestro’s TV sponsors dropping his show. Information is not immediately available on how much of the Liberace TV empire remains intact today, but is seems safe to predict that if the maestro is not already a has-been, he will be in that category shortly.  And not being gifted, as Sinatra is, it’s doubtful that very much will be heard of him again.  Anyway, he’s said to have made plenty out of his short stay in the limelight.  Let’s hope he invested wisely.


All of this brings us to one Elvis Presley, the artist whose hellacious music many considered would be the ruin of society!

After acknowledging the amazing amount of press coverage being afforded the ‘grunt and groin’ boy, Whitehorn licks his lips to report to his readers:

Of course, there are some somber notes creeping into Elvis’ brief career.  Critic Ben Gross wrote: “popular music has been sinking in this country for some years.  Now it has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley.”  It’s doubtful that Gross has anything against the groin as such.  His objection is to Presley’s antics and to his type of music.  Elvis is no musician, and this, more than anything else, will make his future a short one. (emphasis added)

Presley himself says: “You can’t tell, tomorrow I might not be worth two cents.”  He’s a wise boy if he listens to his own words.

Whitehorn’s musical snobbery and neo-vitriol, reaches new heights with this passage:

Anyone with any fondness for music is anti-Presley.  He has become a symbol of the current rock and roll craze.  And rock and roll is anti-music.  As long as it holds the attention of young ears, those same ears will be blocked to better sounds.  Rock and roll is bad toilet training.  Bad habits are tough to break. 

Whitehorn went on to state:

On the average, it’s safe to guess that most of America’s disk jockeys are against playing Presley records.  Only a small percentage of the nation’s DJ’s are playing them..........But to coin a bit of corn, the Presley noise carries the seed of its own destruction.  The more it’s played, the sooner it will die.  A good overdose of it will kill it quicker than anything else.

In concluding his article, it is probably fair to guess that Whitehorn’s sentiment must have further incensed many Elvis fans at the time:

Elvis Presley is probably a nice enough young fellow.  One can’t blame him for riding an unfortunate trend and getting what he can out of it.  On the other hand, one can’t help getting certain satisfaction out of the fact that he won’t be around for long.  He’s not music.

By all accounts Jazz World magazine did not last long and I’m not sure what happened to Chester Whitehorn or critics Ben Gross and John Crosby, but one thing I do know is they were way off the mark in their observations about Elvis and Liberace, and while Liberace’s light may have dimmed, nearly six decades after he first made the record charts, Elvis is (still) everywhere and the Elvis industry keeps on making a multi-million dollar profit each and every year!  Not bad for a ‘grunt and groin’ boy many thought would be but a ‘flash in the pan’.

*Jazz World was a bi-monthly magazine published by Limelight Publications, Inc. in New York. Despite its dismissal of Elvis as an musician, the first issue of Jazz World included several interesting articles about some of the jazz greats, including Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie.

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