Elvis Presley’s ‘If I Can Dream’

There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true…

April marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis.

Dr. King’s assassination, as well as that of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, affected Elvis Presley deeply. These feelings led Elvis to give one of the most passionate performances of his career.

"If I Can Dream" aired December 3, 1968.

Elvis’ TV special aired December 3, 1968.

America was in the midst of an upheaval in 1968. The Civil Rights movement was in full swing and our world and culture were changing. Within a short span of time, two leaders were assassinated. Dr. King was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis – Elvis’ hometown. Robert Kennedy, a US Senator who strongly supported human rights and social justice, was killed two months later, on June 6.

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Elvis' iconic television special.

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ iconic television special.

It was Elvis’ reaction to the news of Kennedy’s assassination that lead to the creation of the song “If I Can Dream,” a tribute song to King, featuring direct quotes from the Civil Rights leader. In the spring of ’68, Elvis was working on his upcoming TV special, “Elvis.” After seeing the news about Kennedy’s death on TV, Elvis spent an entire night with the show’s director, Steve Binder, and his friends, talking about the assassinations and Elvis’ wishes for the world. The conversation was heartfelt and honest, and Binder believed Elvis had an important message for the country. Binder then went to the show’s Musical Director Billy Goldenberg and songwriter Earl Brown and told them about the discussion. He wanted a powerful, meaningful song that would close out the TV special. Because the special was slated to air in December, the producers and Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, had planned to end the show with a Christmas song, but Binder had other ideas. It wasn’t long before “If I Can Dream” was born.

Hear a lovely arrangement of "If I Can Dream," featuring Elvis' vocals and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, on the 2016 album, "If I Can Dream: Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra."

Hear a lovely arrangement of “If I Can Dream,” featuring Elvis’ vocals and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, on the 2015 album, “If I Can Dream: Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.”

Once the song was finished, Binder took the song to Elvis and played it for him.

“Let me hear it again,” said Elvis, and the song was played again and again. “Okay,” Elvis said, “I’ll do it.”

On June 23, 1968, Elvis recorded “If I Can Dream” in several impassioned takes, even though it is said that the first take Elvis gave was perfect. The king gave such a powerful performance that some band members were taken aback, so blown away by Elvis’ performance that they had to do several retakes.

It was after the band and backup singers were sent home that Elvis gave an even more astonishing performance as he re-recorded the vocals. Elvis had the lights turned off and gave himself over to the music. Over the next few takes, he fell to his knees on the concrete floor, giving himself completely to the song. After those takes, Elvis went to the control room and had his chosen take played repeatedly before he gave it his blessing. Elvis was so moved by the song and his experience with it that he told Binder,”I’ll never sing another song I don’t believe in. I’m never going to make another movie I don’t believe in.”

See artifacts from Elvis' '68 Special at Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum at Elvis Presley's Memphis at Graceland.

See artifacts from Elvis’ ’68 Special at Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum at Elvis Presley’s Memphis at Graceland.

“If I Can Dream” was featured at the end of Elvis’ Singer Special (later known as the ’68 Special) on December 3, 1968. This was the first time the public heard the song, and it was later released as a single with “Edge of Reality” (recorded for the film “Live a Little, Love a Little”) as its flipside in November 1968. The single spent 13 weeks on the U.S. pop chart peaking at #12. In the U.K., it was on the chart for 10 weeks, peaking at #11. It is now a Gold Record single.

Check out artifacts from the ’68 Special, including Elvis’ white “If I Can Dream” suit, on display now at Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum at Elvis Presley’s Memphis at Graceland – click here to start planning your experience!

And be sure to join us this August for Elvis Week 2018, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ legendary ’68 Special with concerts, panels and more.


11 Comments

  1. Joan Cloney

    Elvis sang his heart out in this song and all the rest. There never was or never will be anyone who can sing a song like Elvis did.
    I was with him right from the start and will be to the end.

  2. Joan Cloney

    ELVIS! The greatest music artist there ever was, or will be!

  3. This is why ELVIS IS THE KING!
    And his music will live forever and never be forgotten. by one word “ELVIS” you know as soon as you hear that you know who anyone is talking about………………….LONG LIVE THE KING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Margaret Vandemunt

    hope to get to Graceland soon again

  5. CHRIS BLAKE

    Elvis Presley, the greatest of all times, never will there be another ever entertainer who will even come close to him.

  6. Sony Legacy or BMG should release a NEW album/CD titled “If I can dream” with lots of Elvis’ sacred songs that are spread on so many albums…Help me, Only believe, If that isn’t love, We call on Him, etc
    KEEP ROCKIN’ with the real “Elvis sound & soul” !!!

  7. dirceu viana

    We love all this, we thank the whole Graceland team, always preparing with all the affection to welcome the fans. Our support, Elvis Presley Taubaté fan club of Brazil and Sunrise of Rock.

  8. stephen stathis

    This song debunks all those who thought EP didn’t care about racial issues: EP did it on his terms: this song; having the Sweets on stage with him touring throughout the south from 1969-1977. This song shows Elvis’s beauty & power as a human being.

  9. Tom Linney

    The most moving song I have heard and when Elvis sang this song it was so powerful the words had real meaning and his wish for our world to work and live together in peace and friendship it always brings me to tears hoping that other people would feel the same, God Bless you Elvis I wish you was still with us.

  10. Mark Welch

    The song ‘if I can dream” brings tears to my eyes. I saw the Dec 3rd 1968 TV special live I was 13 years old . I never knew the song was dedicated to Martin Luther King till just now. My wife and I will be at Graceland tomorrow Thursday April 5th first time ever, been an Elvis fan my whole life , I know the tears will be back , great man heart of gold ,Rest in Peace King

  11. maria elvira

    love anything that concerns to ELVIS!!!

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