Music

Remembering Elvis Presley's Gospel Medley From His 1968 Comeback Special

Screengrab via YouTube

In 1968, after seven years of making movies, Elvis Presley returned to the stage for his NBC special, Elvis, later dubbed his '68 Comeback Special. The show marked a major return for Presley, as he hadn't stepped on a stage since 1961. From '61 to '68, Presley spent his time making movies, but after a few failed productions, he came back to music. The special was filmed at NBC Studios in Burbank, California and was meant to refresh Presley's sound and attract a younger audience. The show featured both sit-down performances and full productions from the King of Rock 'n' Roll, and in a standout moment from the show, Presley performed a gospel medley.

The full-stage gospel production began with a male dancer dancing to "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" on a red stage. After that introduction, more dancers appeared on the stage, snapping in unison, while Presley appeared on a stage above them. Presley, dressed in a red suit and neckerchief, then launched into "Where Could I Go But To The Lord," which he included on his 1967 gospel album, How Great Thou Art. As he sang, three gospel singers joined Presley on the stage, and the four of them ten walked down stairs to join the other dancers. Presley continued singing the hymn as jazz dancers put on an impressive display around him.

The program then transitioned to the medley's next hymn, "Up Above My Head," while the dancers continued to take the stage. After a few verses of "Up Above My Head," Presley seamlessly transitioned to the next hymn, "Saved." He continued to sing this upbeat, rock 'n' roll-influenced hymn while dancers continued to swirl around him. The dancers then took the full stage while Presley finished out the song in an overpowering finale.

Including a gospel number in his '68 Comeback Special was not an unusual move for Presley, as his relationship with gospel music ran deep. Gospel music was one of the first musical influences Presley was exposed to thanks to his church in Tupelo, Mississippi. His mother, Gladys, even said Elvis would run up to the church stage at age 2 wanting to sing with the choir. Presley continued to be influenced by gospel music after his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and he would often attend all-night gospel shows as a teenager. Presley was also well-versed in the signature blues music coming out of Memphis.

Read More: Experience Elvis Presley's Early Life in Tupelo, Mississippi

All these influences came together to form Presley's brand of rock 'n' roll, but he always kept gospel music as an important part of his career. In 1957, he released his first project of gospel songs which came in the form of an extended play (EP) called Peace In The Valley. This project featured four gospel songs: "(There'll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)," "It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)," "I Believe," and "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."

Then, in November 1960, Presley released his first of three full gospel albums with His Hand In Mine. This album featured six tracks on both sides, and included classics such as "In My Father's House," "Milky White Way," "Known Only To Him," "I Believe In The Man In The Sky," "Joshua Fit The Battle," "Swing Down Sweet Chariot," and more. The album was incredibly successful for a gospel album, landing at No. 13 on the US pop chart.

In 1968, Presley released another gospel album, How Great Thou Art, which featured songs such as "In The Garden," "Crying In The Chapel," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "We Call On Him," "Who Am I," and more. This album won Presley a Grammy Award.

His third gospel album, He Touched Me, was released in 1972. This project featured "Amazing Grace," "Bosom of Abraham," "An Evening Prayer," and others. A 2008 reissue of the album also featured "Only Believe" and "Help Me," among other tunes. A compilation album of Presley's gospel songs, called Peace in the Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings, was released in 1999.

 

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Remembering Elvis Presley's Gospel Medley From His 1968 Comeback Special