Elvis Presley's Impact on Society Through Music

by Michael Black
Elvis' impact was great enough to spawn legions of impersonators.

Elvis' impact was great enough to spawn legions of impersonators.

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Elvis Presley is one of the most historically significant names in popular music. With his distinctive voice, good looks and captivating stage presence, Elvis defined an entire genre of music, earning himself the nickname "The King of Rock 'n' Roll." Through his music, Elvis affected many different aspects of society.


Although Elvis' hip movements may seem relatively tame by modern standards, they were enough to cause a national outcry in the mid-1950s. Based on the success of songs such as "Heartbreak Hotel," Elvis was booked on several variety TV shows, including "The Ed Sullivan Show." Elvis' dancing was deemed so scandalous that many of these shows would shoot footage of Elvis only from the waist up. The young people of the time, however, loved Elvis' gyrations, and before long, many young adults were mimicking his movements. By the time Elvis was making movies in the '60s, few TV stations felt the need to censor his dance moves. Through Elvis' music and stage presence, he laid the seeds for the "free love" attitude that prevailed throughout much of the 1960s.


Elvis' fashion and style were extremely influential on youths in the '50s. At the time, he tended to perform in suits and clothing that were worn predominantly by African-Americans. His clothes, which he often bought at Lansky's on Beale Street in Memphis, were typically colorful and slightly too large for him. His pompadour hairstyle became extremely popular with young men. His fashion sense, like his sexually infused dance movements, caused an uproar in society. Racism was still common, and many people did not like Elvis dressing in what was thought of at the time as black clothing. The flashier suits he wore in his later years are also widely remembered, copied and parodied.

Musical Impact

Elvis' ability to mix traditionally black forms of music such as blues and jazz with traditionally white forms of music like country helped to break down many musical and racial barriers. Rock 'n' roll was born of this melding of styles. Through his music, Elvis introduced countless young white people to black music and countless young black people to white music. Without Elvis, modern music and all of the subsequent societal changes it has brought about may have taken a very different course.


Because of the hoopla surrounding Elvis' dance, clothing and music, he became something of an anti-authority figure. Many parents in the '50s didn't want their children listening to his music or watching him perform. In many cases, this had the opposite of the intended effect, actually increasing Elvis' overall popularity. This anti-authoritarian attitude has been a major part of rock 'n' roll since Elvis' time, pervading virtually every form of the style from punk rock to rockabilly to heavy metal.

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