More music on the subject of God (and Heaven too); a traditional spiritual arranged by Elvis Presley for his 1967 Gospel album How Great Thou Art, which was a triple-platinum hit and won the 1967 Grammy for Best Sacred Performance. So High is a fine, rousing tune with a good arrangement, and just terrific singing.

How Great Thou Art

Elvis never won a Grammy for pop music, but more than one for Gospel. I have a story to tell, possibly relevant. In about 1990, I had a business trip to Nashville, so I took my then-wife along and we did Tennessee: the Opry, Jack Daniels, Beale Street, Sun Studios, and of course Graceland (visit that Web site). It’s a dead-serious irony-free zone, the people who’d come from far and wide were quiet and reverent. I totally loved it. It’s a beautiful place, in a sort of wacko Atomic-Age style, and the presentation and tour were polished; visit if you get a chance. Also, you’ll learn a lot about Elvis.

Anyhow, after the tour we went down to the Visitor Center across the street, and my attention was grabbed by this little TV that was looping a video of Elvis and a couple other guys joking around, Elvis sitting at a piano. Then they launch into a breakneck version of some Gospel tune, totally off-the-cuff, but passionate and excellent, Elvis pounding the piano and leaning into every word. Here’s the thing: As a rocker, Elvis never took himself seriously, he was simultaneously making the moves and laughing at himself making them. But with Gospel music, he was dead serious, committed, never even hinting that the words weren’t the real ultimate truth. I think he actually Believed In God.

So I’m pretty sure that Elvis is the greatest white Gospel singer to have ever lived. I have one of the collections and really like all the songs on it, but So High has the pace and the movement and makes me want to dance, and oh, those vocals. You could really do worse than picking up all of How Great Thou Art and listening to it end-to-end, though.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links · Spotify playlist. This tune on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. There’s no decent live video of any Elvis gospel that I can find, which is irritating since I know that TV clip I saw across the street from Graceland 20 years ago is out there.


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June 17, 2018
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