Elvis Presley’s song for peace and racial harmony

Currently soaring high at cinema box-offices, is ‘Elvis’, a biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann, about the life and music of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, Elvis Presley (brilliantly portrayed by Austin Butler).

One of the standout moments in the movie is the dramatisation of Elvis’s NBC TV ‘Comeback Special’ in 1968. Elvis had moved away from recording songs to focus on films, so it was a big deal in ’68 when he returned to the stage.

However, what was to be a family special, turned out to be rebirth of Elvis, and a more of return to his roots, in particular, the Gospel music which had influenced his childhood.

The show closed with, ‘If I Can Dream’, which was the first time that Elvis had sung a song with any kind of political reference. This was against the wishes of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who had wanted Elvis to sing, ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’.

But Steve Binder (Director of the TV special), wanted Elvis to express his feelings about the current situation in America. Presley had been moved by the recent assassinations of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The assassination of King, who Presley strongly admired, had deeply touched the star, who felt that his killing, having taken place in Memphis, Tennessee, “only confirmed everyone’s worst feelings about the south.”

So Binder instructed lyricist Walter Earl Brown to “write the greatest song you’ve ever written”, that would reflect Presley and his beliefs. Brown wrote, ‘If I Can Dream’, a plea for peace and racial harmony, on the same night. After hearing it three times, Presley fell in love with the song, and was convinced to record it (although Colonel Parker took 100 percent of the publishing rights).

In the song Presley sings,
“There must be lights burning brighter somewhere

Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue

If I can dream of a better land

Where all my brothers walk hand in hand

Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true

Oh why

There must be peace and understanding sometime

Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear

If I can dream of a warmer sun

Where hope keeps shining on everyone

Tell me why, oh why, oh why won’t that sun appear”

After the recording Presley proclaimed, “I’m never going to sing another song I don’t believe in. I’m never going to make another movie I don’t believe in.”

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