Elvis Week Blog 5 – Top 5 Elvis Gospel Concert Highlights

BY JON WATERHOUSE

With the release of the new Elvis gospel album, “Where No One Stands Alone,” Elvis’ favorite genre returns to the spotlight. Last night at Graceland’s Soundstage, some of the gospel crooners who sang with the king –and appear on the new disc– did the same.

The Gospel Music of Elvis Presley Concert brought together Elvis’ Imperials and former members of JD Sumner and the Stamps Quartet for an evening of equal parts jubilation and inspiration. The spirited sounds certainly had an impact on the crowd, eliciting more than a few “amens” and standing ovations throughout the show.

“They’re carrying the torch,” said audience member Liz Hill of Madison, Mississippi, a longtime Elvis gospel fan. “And I think that’s what Elvis would want.”

That torch blazed for the better part of two hours with two full sets from each act and a few surprises. Here are my Top Five Highlights:

The Throwback Intro

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To amp the crowd, footage from the concert film documentaries “Elvis: That’s the Way It Is” and “Elvis on Tour” projected on massive screens as a version of the gospel rave up “So High” boomed through the concert hall. Andy Childs, co-producer of “Where No One Stands Alone,” served as host and shared stories of Elvis’ passion for gospel, before introducing Elvis’ Imperials.

Elvis’ Imperials

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The trio, featuring Terry Blackwood, Darrell Toney and Lynn Royce Taylor, bounced through an array of uptempo numbers, including Elvis foot-stompers “Bosom of Abraham” and “Swing Down Sweet Chariot.” “I Believe,” “The Secret” and more dipped into mellow introspection. Their set-closing medley stitched together bits of Elvis standards “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “The Wonder of You,” “An American Trilogy” and “How Great Thou Art.”

“Where No One Stands Alone”

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After the Imperials’ set, fans scored a big-screen presentation of the music video for the title track off of “Where No One Stands Alone,” a virtual duet featuring Elvis and daughter Lisa Marie Presley. Footage of Elvis from his 1968 television special and vintage Presley home movies interlace with in-studio shots of Lisa Marie, uniting father and daughter in a heart-tugging tapestry of imagery and song.

The Stamps

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Donnie Sumner, Bill Baize, Larry Strickland, Ed Hill and Jeff Sumner not only displayed their collective powers as a quintet, but took turns giving each other spots in the driver’s seat. This included Strickland’s powerful bass leading “Peace in the Valley” and Jeff Sumner’s testimonial delivery of “He Touched Me.” Armed with stand-up comic timing and off-the-cuff dexterity, Donnie Sumner brought his front man charm to the stage, deftly shifting between laugh-out-loud jokester and poignant vocal messenger.

“How Great Thou Art”

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The show’s finale featured both groups along with Childs recreating the latest version of Elvis’ “How Great Thou Art,” a highlight on the “Where No One Stands Alone” album. With Elvis leading the charge, the collective vocalists joined forces, offering tangible proof why the king chose them for his court.


Donnie Sumner: Reflections on Elvis

Sumner, a true gospel music legend, chalked up countless miles singing alongside Elvis on stage and in the studio. This former member of JD Sumner and the Stamps did everything from appearing in the iconic 1973 “Aloha from Hawaii” TV special to serving as Elvis’ own personal gospel jukebox. His tales are many, some of which he’s documented in books including “In the Shadow of Kings: From the King of Rock to the King of Kings.”

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Sumner shared a few thoughts with the Elvis Week blog:

On the surreal nature of his Elvis experience:

“I still cannot get used to the fact that was me up there standing beside Elvis. I asked Elvis one time, ‘Elvis, what does it feel like to be you? I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be you.’ He said, ‘Donnie, sometimes when there ain’t nobody watching, I go in the bathroom and close the door and look in the mirror and (laugh.)’ He couldn’t believe it either.”

On performing at the original “Aloha From Hawaii” concert:

“I think I can speak for everybody else in the show. It was basically just another night for us. Elvis didn’t need anybody. He could walk out there with a stool, a guitar and have a worldwide satellite show with that many viewers and do it all by himself. We were just there to fill up the picture and add color. …We could’ve been naked and no one would’ve known it. Everybody was wanting to see Elvis. They weren’t wanting to see us. To us, there was no pressure. …We were just going out there and scooby-doo-wahing and boppity-bopping. Elvis was the one who had all of the pressure. To us it was just another night. And we really had no idea what kind of night we were having until after the fact when we realized what Elvis had done. And we were just poles holding up the tent. We didn’t add (anything) to the show. It was Elvis who pulled it off. … We were so caught up in youth, fun and follies that we couldn’t capture the importance of the moment. But it was definitely an important moment. I will always be grateful that I had a chance to be a part of it.”

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On what impressed him most about Elvis:

“Not to get religious, I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve, but I’m a very spiritually-minded person. I know what I’m talking about when I talk spiritual matters, and I’ve got the degrees to prove it. (Laughs.) There was an anointing on Elvis’ life to be a psalmist. And the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance, which means God never changes his mind when he makes up his mind. When he gave Elvis this gift to be a psalmist, it didn’t matter if he sang country music or rock ‘n’ roll or gospel music. That God-given anointing –we call it the gift of music in secular terms– prepared the way for everything Elvis would do for the rest of his life. … And he had no choice in the matter. Whatever he did was going to be blessed beyond measure, because he carried that special God-given anointing that draws to itself. Even if he had not had long hair, if he had no talent, if he wasn’t handsome, if he was just ugly like me, he still would’ve made people stop and take notice when he walked into a room, because he was special.”


1 Comment

  1. stephen stathis

    Thanks for this. Elvis sang many of his songs with a gospel feel even if they weren’t gospel. The spiritual growth is there if one listens to his first gospel LP HHIM and then his second one HGTA. Elvis succeeded in spite of his weaknesses which make him more impressive as a man and artist.

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