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InElvis Presley, one of the most admired Southern historians of our time takes on one of the greatest cultural icons of all time. The result is a masterpiece: a vivid, gripping biography, set against the rich backdrop of Southern society--indeed, American society--in the second half of the twentieth century. Author ofThe Crucible of RaceandWilliam Faulkner and Southern History, Joel Williamson is a renowned historian known for his matchless ability to write compelling narratives. In this tour de force biography, he captures the drama of Presley's career and offers insights into the social upheavals following World War II. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley was a contradiction, flamboyant in pegged black pants with pink stripes, yet soft-spoken, respectfully courting a decent girl from church. Then he wandered into Sun Records, and everything changed. He first went onstage in 1954. "I was scared stiff," Elvis recalled. "Everyone was hollering and I didn't know what they were hollering at."Girlsdid the hollering--at his snarl and swagger. Williamson calls it "the revolution of the Elvis girls." They took command, insisting on his sexually charged performances. They lived in an intense moment, this generation raised by their mothers, when men had been at war. The first Supreme Court ruling inBrown vs. Board of Educationoccurred two weeks before Elvis's first gig, turning high schools into battlegrounds of race. Explosively, white girls went wild for a white man singing a black man's songs, "wiggling" erotically. The book illuminates the zenith of Presley's career, his period of deepest creativity, which captured a legion of fans and kept them fervently loyal throughout years of army, wine, and women. Williamson shows how Elvis himself changed--and didn't. The deferential boy with downcast eyes became the bloated, demented drug addict who, despite his success, never escaped his sense of social inferiority. He bought Graceland in part to escape the judgment of his wealthy, established neighbors. Appreciative and unsparing, musically attuned and socially revealing,Elvis Presleywill deepen our understanding of the man and his times.
Joel Williamson, Lineberger Professor Emeritus of the Humanities of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of a number of landmark works, including William Faulkner and Southern History (OUP, 1993) and The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South sinceEmancipation (OUP, 1984), which won the Francis Parkman Prize, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, and the Ralph Emerson Award. Both books were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.
Ted Ownby is Professor of History and Southern Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty, and Culture, 1830-1998, among other books.
Donald L. Shaw, who assisted with the final editing, is Kenan Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.