Elvis’ legacy world’s unity boost

People ask me where I got my singing style. I didn’t copy my style from anybody.

Elvis Presley, American singer and actor regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century

Elvis Aaron Presley is a religion the world over. His persona and music have united his legions of fans, transcending borders.

To this group, Elvis is a king — he is always referred to as ‘The King’.

So if I bore readers with Elvis talk, please bear with me. However, I am not a preacher intent on converting anyone to accept Elvis as his/her religion. Elvis will not be happy about that too — after all he once said, “I am not a king, just a singer!”

Fans alone during his demise on Aug 16, 1977 numbered no less than 100 million in as many countries, including Asian countries.

Out of these, there were roughly only about 2,000 professional impersonators also known as Elvis tribute artistes (ETAs) then, namely those being paid to perform.

Sometimes they are referred as the King’s Men or just simply Kingsmen. There were only a handful of ETAs in Malaysia in 1977. The reigning Elvis of Malaysia then was Eddie Francis, who won the title in a contest a year earlier — I was too poor to make it to the contest though by virtue of being dubbed the Elvis of Penang after winning the ‘Mr. Curled Lips’ in 1976, I was eligible.

Now, 42 years later, there are reportedly about 300,000 ETAs worldwide with a small fraction of that being Malaysians.

In our state, the Land of Hornbills, there are only a handful of active ETAs, who are aged mostly over 60 years, with two already passing the figure 70. Only one is below 30.

Though we are small in number, we are a very vital part of the Malaysian scene for without us, the Elvis phenomenon in the country is incomplete.

No contest, no show or public appearance can be called ‘Malaysian Elvis’ if the Sarawak counterparts are absent.

This applies to the Sabah Elvis too, even though there is only one known active ETA in the northern Borneo state.

My point is, as a world religion, phenomenon and a world happening, Elvis is a harmony of sorts and certainly a unifying factor. He transcends race, creed, faith and country. He is a world without border, a universal conviction and passion.

Though having gone for over 40 years, Elvis, whose twin brother Jesse Garon Presley died at birth, remains the world’s most popular artiste/performer.

In death he still earns millions of dollars through Elvis Enterprises’ sales of Elvis merchandise, including his songs, records or albums as well as profits from Graceland that has been converted into a museum and gallery attracting an average of 3,000 visitors daily.

His “That’s Alright Mama”, the pioneer song of rock ‘n’ roll hit the number one again in the United Kingdom and in the American Top Charts for a number of weeks recently.

For the record, when it was first released on July 19, 1954, the song made the 19-year-old Elvis to be known all over the United States and later to the world.

Then the record sold more than 20,000 copies and paved the way for other singers such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. As such it was considered as the pioneer tune of rock ‘n’ roll and deservingly earned millions even in his death.

Active ETAs in Malaysia led by 80-year-old Eddie Francis now number about a score. We may be from different racial and religious backgrounds but we are very solidly one. Malaysia’s Kingsmen comprise Malay, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese, Iban, Bidayuh, Kadazan and other ethnicities, especially in our beloved Sarawak.

Elvis unites us all. We do not compete but we complement each other. If there are feelings of intense rivalry or enmity, these are well kept by the concerned individuals and not a shared option.

His music, his legacy and most of all his legend is a universal uniting factor the world over, and more so in Malaysia, whose racial and cultural diversity as well as multi-religious traits need it most.

Eddie Francis calls me “brother” or just “bro” and so does Chris Gomez (Elvis of Sabah), or for that matter Sunny Tai (Elvis of Selangor) and the same goes to Paul Lee (another self-styled Elvis of Malaysia).

We are brothers in music, Elvis music that is. It was our show in Kota Kinabalu in 2012 that boosted our unity.

Eddie, who represented Malaysia in an Elvis contest in India in 1958, was elated when I mentioned my absence and his 1976 win in KL. Another big performance involving over 30 Malaysian ETAs was in 2014 at Ol Skool Pub in PJ.

To our big relief, those coming to our KK and KL shows and elsewhere also represent a truly Malaysian plural society.

This goes to show Elvis melts the heart of anyone, old and young. It is common to see four or even five generations sitting together in a room enjoying ‘Elvis on Tour’ anytime — a show set in the early 70s but everlasting in its appeal. Long live the King!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.

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