Elvis Presley’s love of gospel music had long been evident, for he had previously recorded and released an EP of gospel material and used gospel songs to warm up before live performances. The idea to devote an entire album to gospel appealed to Elvis as a singer and in particular to his manager Colonel Tom Parker, who wanted to break Elvis into films and Hollywood; gospel would help Elvis project a family-friendly image. During the course of 14 hours on 30 and 31 October 1960, Elvis recorded a total of fourteen songs; twelve gospel songs together with new material in Surrender and Crying In The Chapel. Whilst the latter two tracks would be held over for single release, the twelve gospel tracks were released as His Hand In Mine in November 1960. A #13 hit in the US, the album surpassed expectations in the UK, where it would power its way to #3 and spend nearly six months on the listing.
Elvis was a walkin', talkin', singin' combination of indigenous American music and styles, but probably the first music he heard as a child was gospel--in Southern Baptist churches, on Memphis radio (where white Southern gospel quartets flourished during the '40s and '50s), and from black churches. Presley released an EP of gospel music in the '50s, around the same time he performed "Peace in the Valley" on one of his Ed Sullivan appearances. This 1960 release, however, represents his first full-length foray into gospel, and while it's a bit more produced than the EP, it still features beautiful singing. Staples such as "Joshua Fit the Battle" and "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" sound like they came directly from a Memphis service. Of course, for Presley, gospel included everything from the title track by Stuart Hambler (who ran against Eisenhower on the Prohibition ticket) to Rodgers & Hammerstein. After all, hybridization was his magic. --Bill Holdship