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Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:41 am

Here's a fascinating clip from Variety, August 1955, which demonstrates how Elvis and rock 'n' roll / r&b were viewed as being dangerous by black listeners in Houston.

Look at that glorious list of records! EP's records were seemingly classified as "race music" and he was in some fabulous company ...

Variety Censor 24 Aug 55 (1).JPG

Variety Censor 24 Aug 55 (2).JPG


Jet magazine carried a similar article the following month.

Jet Censor 8 Sep 55.JPG
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Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:13 am

Great research George. Many kudos.

Some terrific records on that list. The titles and the artists show racism at work. It's hard to believe a standard "baby come back" lyric like "Reconsider Baby" was considered too racy. What would those prudes think after ten minutes with modern radio?

This is a great article though that proves Elvis was not the "safe" alternative many in modern media have portrayed.

Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:24 am

This is priceless research! An astounding find.

Elvis was simply one of the bunch. On the wanted posters by proper society. Including the NAACP! Wow.

Thank you!!!

rjm

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Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:58 am

The good old "clean up committee" what would we do without 'em.
Good post George.


norrie

Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:23 am

George Smith wrote:Here's a fascinating clip from Variety, August 1955, which demonstrates how Elvis and rock 'n' roll / r&b were viewed as being dangerous by black listeners in Houston.

Look at that glorious list of records! EP's records were seemingly classified as "race music" and he was in some fabulous company ...

Variety Censor 24 Aug 55 (1).JPG

Variety Censor 24 Aug 55 (2).JPG


Jet magazine carried a similar article the following month.

Jet Censor 8 Sep 55.JPG


Your research shows the struggles of class, race and censorship in the mid-fifties. It would take a kid from Tupelo, within a year's time, to bust the story wide open. And we're still feeling the aftershocks today.

Unless I'm mistaken, Elvis is the sole white act on that list of banned records, which leads me to believe those compiling the list had no idea he was a 20 year-old kid out of Humes High School in Memphis.

Thanks, George Smith.
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Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:54 am

drjohncarpenter wrote:Unless I'm mistaken, Elvis is the sole white act on that list of banned records, which leads me to believe those compiling the list had no idea he was a 20 year-old kid out of Humes High School in Memphis.

Thanks, George Smith.


Actually the article say "most of the 26 were by Negro Artists" so I'm assuming they knew Elvis was white. Interestingly too its a cover of the same song they banned by the original artist so its likely a case he guilty by association. Since its the blacks that are doing the banning its hard to classify it as racism. It almost sounds like they're policing themselves and are resisting stereotyping. Not all blacks at the time liked the blues or R&b, no more than all whites liked country or folk.
I wouldn't be surprised if it was more religiously motivated than race.

Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:27 am

Since W. Harris had the initial big hit on the record, it might be that Brown suffered the "guilt" by association to Elvis' s record.

And it does seem as though he is the only artist on the list who would not be considered black. (a few names I don't recognize) 25 out of 26 is more than "most."

He was anomalous.

Also, a "similar" effort by WDIA in Memphis is cited as the model for this effort. For a while they weren't playing his records. Now we know why.

rjm

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Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:18 am

JamesVRoy wrote:
drjohncarpenter wrote:Unless I'm mistaken, Elvis is the sole white act on that list of banned records, which leads me to believe those compiling the list had no idea he was a 20 year-old kid out of Humes High School in Memphis.

Thanks, George Smith.


Actually the article say "most of the 26 were by Negro Artists" ...


Right.

But the Variety reporter is not the person or group who made up the list of songs to be banned. My point is that those behind these shenanigans likely did not know Elvis Presley was white. It was mid-1955, Presley was not that well-known, especially by conservative idiots.

Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:47 pm

Thanks George

Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:26 pm

Tommy Collins was also white (and a country singer, at that!):
phpBB [video]

Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:19 pm

likethebike wrote:Great research George. Many kudos.

Some terrific records on that list. The titles and the artists show racism at work. It's hard to believe a standard "baby come back" lyric like "Reconsider Baby" was considered too racy. What would those prudes think after ten minutes with modern radio?

This is a great article though that proves Elvis was not the "safe" alternative many in modern media have portrayed.


I echo your thoughts, LTB !

That 'safe' alternative was Pat Boone, wasn't it ?

And yes, the lyrics of modern songs are very explicit !

But, to be honest, do they do our youngsters any harm ?

Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:35 pm

drjohncarpenter wrote:
JamesVRoy wrote:
drjohncarpenter wrote:Unless I'm mistaken, Elvis is the sole white act on that list of banned records, which leads me to believe those compiling the list had no idea he was a 20 year-old kid out of Humes High School in Memphis.

Thanks, George Smith.


Actually the article say "most of the 26 were by Negro Artists" ...


Right.

But the Variety reporter is not the person or group who made up the list of songs to be banned. My point is that those behind these shenanigans likely did not know Elvis Presley was white. It was mid-1955, Presley was not that well-known, especially by conservative idiots.



I see your point and missed the distinction when I read it between the Variety reporter and the then powers that be. I wonder though how unknown he was in Houston at that time having been brought there at the end of 54 by Biff Collie and in addition to the other venues had played the auditorium as early as April of 55. The radio community at least knew he was white. I still believe his version was banned as a result of Roy's being banned. Not that racism wasn't rampant and its speculation at best but I don't see it as a big motivator in this instance.

Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Fri Feb 15, 2013 1:20 pm

Thank you for the excellent responses, all; apologies for not chiming in earlier but I've been tied up at work somewhat.

Some very valid points being made by all contributors.

Fascinating that EP's music should be played (and then banned) on a black radio station, doncha think?

What a tangled web of social / racial / religious niceties Sam Phillips must have to deal with when tirelessly flogging Elvis' music in the mid-50s.

Re: Elvis: Banned from the airwaves in 1955

Sat Feb 16, 2013 12:11 am

George Smith wrote:Thank you for the excellent responses, all; apologies for not chiming in earlier but I've been tied up at work somewhat.

Some very valid points being made by all contributors.

Fascinating that EP's music should be played (and then banned) on a black radio station, doncha think?

What a tangled web of social / racial / religious niceties Sam Phillips must have to deal with when tirelessly flogging Elvis' music in the mid-50s.


It makes sense, in that Presley's music in this era appealed to pop, country and r&b radio. In some ways, when Elvis lost the r&b market in the early 1960s, he lost a very important part of his musical soul.