Originally Published: March 7, 2012 9:54 p.m.
Elvis Presley's passion for gospel music will come alive Sunday in Lonely Street Production's "How Great Thou Art" on the Elks Opera House stage.
The show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $22 to $25 and are available at the opera house's box office from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today through Friday, by calling 777-1370 or by logging onto www.elksoperahouse.com.
"He grew up with gospel, but people don't know that," said Robert Shaw, who heads up the production company and has honed his impersonation of Presley for many years.
"When he was a young man, before he had any aspirations of being the King of Rock, he wanted to be a bass singer in a gospel quartet," Shaw said. Presley even auditioned for a group in Memphis but didn't make the quartet, Shaw added. Nevertheless, Presley did incorporate gospel into his music "after he became a huge star, and recorded more than 100 gospel songs."
Yet Presley never won a Grammy for any of his pop or rock 'n' roll hits, both categories that he was more identified with, Shaw said. But, out of 14 Grammy nominations, he won three for gospel recordings - the albums "How Great Thou Art," and "He Touched Me," and his live Memphis concert recording of "How Great Thou Art."
"This is wonderful music," Shaw said. "A lot of people draw inspiration from this music. Even if you take the inspirational element away, the music is great."
Shaw's "How Great Thou Art: The Gospel Music of Elvis Presley" made its debut in 2006 and is "one of our favorite shows," he said.
Lonely Street will bring along a big ensemble to accompany the concert - a horn section, a southern gospel quartet to sing back-up, guitar, drums, bass and keys - and, of course, Shaw as Elvis.
"I love gospel music," Shaw said. "The first place I ever sang gospel was in church. It's really fun to bring it to life in this kind of forum."
Sunday's audience can look forward to "pretty much all gospel," Shaw said. But the performance will also offer other songs with inspirational messages, such as "In the Ghetto," which speaks of helping one's fellow man; "You Gave Me a Mountain," asking listeners to "keep their faith when times are hard"; and the classic, "In the Garden Take My Hand, Precious Lord."
Presley hits will be in the spotlight throughout the two-hour show, with renditions of "Peace in the Valley," "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace," Shaw said.
On Lonely Street's website, Shaw offers a glimpse of his Elvis side. "I also have an Elvis tribute act that's a whole lot of fun," he says. "It's very different from most impersonators. It's not some fat guy in a jumpsuit with big bushy side-burns butchering The King of Rock and Roll's music on a karaoke machine. We actually use a live band with professional experienced musicians who are completely dedicated to putting on a top-quality show. Also, I don't do a full-on 'impersonation.' Granted, I put on the clothes, I have the sideburns, and try my best to capture the sound, but there's still a lot of Robert in there. I think that's what makes our show truly unique."
Shaw also says that he likes people to know that "there's something in this show for everybody to like. The band is top-notch talent" and the audience can expect "good old-fashioned gospel fun."