Readers, hello and welcome to a much-requested entry here at “Church of Christ Celebrities”! This is the next-to-last post for the blog in general, as well as the first of two which will bring us back to the world of music as we close out our time together. This week, we’re taking on the celebrity of all celebrities, the winner of multiple Grammy awards, the number one selling solo artist of all time, the King himself–Elvis Presley (1935-1977). Though his career was, of course, cut short by complications related to drug abuse, Presley’s popular recordings in the rock and roll, rockabilly, R&B, country, and gospel genres transformed the music scene to a degree matched by few, if any, other recording artists in American history. Summing up the importance of Elvis’s broader cultural impact could fill an entire book, so we won’t even attempt it here–but again, it’s Elvis. You’ve heard of him.
Today’s post is a bit unusual in that the readers who suggested Presley as a potential blog topic noted that the singer himself did not have any apparent connection to Churches of Christ. Rather, any ties would have been through people close to him, including family members, who had an affiliation of some sort with the fellowship. Longtime readers may remember that we covered Ray Walker, one of the members of the Jordanaires, way back in a much earlier multi-subject post, but there were other connections between Elvis and Churches of Christ–at least according to our readers. Let’s see what we can find.
One potential link mentioned is that the minister who preached Elvis’s funeral was, according to the word on the street, a member of the Churches of Christ. Given that the funeral of a major celebrity like Elvis would have been widely reported on, this should be an easy claim to fact-check. So what do the sources say?
As expected, it didn’t take me long to find several articles on the funeral, all of which confirmed our readers’ claims. The relevant quotation from the Rolling Stone‘s write-up will serve our purposes nicely here:
About 200 persons crowded into and out of Elvis’ music room at Graceland at two p.m. to hear remarks by Rex Humbard, the TV evangelist from Akron, Ohio; comedian Jack Kahane, who had opened shows for Elvis; and the Reverend C.W. Bradley, pastor of Memphis’ Wooddale Church of Christ. Bradley gave the main eulogy. (1)
While some of the religious terminology used by the Stone‘s reporter might differ from that used by most members of Churches of Christ, this article (and several others not cited here) clearly informed readers that the minister C.W. Bradley conducted the funeral, confirming this first possible link.
Another potential tie, according to one reader, is that Elvis’s mother was a member of the Churches of Christ. As it turns out, there is a grain of truth in the rumor, but one of the key details is a bit off. Elvis’s mother, Gladys Love Presley, along with his father, Vernon Elvis Presley, actually had close ties to and worshiped with the Assemblies of God throughout much of Elvis’s life, a fact which the singer himself confirmed in interviews. (2) However, Gladys passed away in 1958, and Vernon remarried in 1960. His second wife, Dee Stanley Presley, had previously lived in Huntsville, Alabama, where she attended the Lincoln Church of Christ. (3) So as we can see, any potential connection would have been through Elvis’s stepmother, Dee, rather than his mother, Gladys.
That brings us to a close for today. Again, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Elvis Presley himself had connections to Churches of Christ, but certainly several people close to him did. Two weeks from today, I’ll post the final entry at “Church of Christ Celebrities,” and I hope you’ll check back in for that. Be sure to check out our recent posts on crime and sports in the meantime if you haven’t already done so, and thanks as always for reading!
(1) Chet Flippo, “Elvis Presley: Funeral in Memphis,” Rolling Stone, September 22, 1977, accessed November 19, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/elvis-presley-funeral-in-memphis-61938/.
(2) Peter Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012). I consulted an electronic version of the book which lacked page numbers.
(3) Steve Maze, “Graceland Christmas was ‘rich’ with Elvis,” Arab Tribune, December 27, 2010, accessed November 19, 2019, http://www.thearabtribune.com/news/graceland-christmas-was-rich-with-elvis/article_61de90cc-9985-5f8f-adc4-4c52709c13ad.html.