It’s a well-known story in certain circles. A poor white boy from Tupelo, Mississippi moves to Memphis with his family. As a teenager, he learns to love music – gospel, blues, country – and even without formal musical training of any sort, he decides that his future is in music. He goes to Sun Studio to record a few songs for his mama and he catches the ear of studio boss Sam Phillips, who is looking for the right person to bring the sounds of African-American music to a wider audience. Sam brings in a couple of local musicians for some studio time with the young man, to see if he’s found the right voice, but the session doesn’t go well. In fact, they were about to pack it in for the night, when the young man starts singing Arthur Crudup’s blues number “That’s All Right.” This time it clicks. The song becomes a hit on local radio, and a star is born.
Elvis Presley’s story is a great one, with a young man overcoming great odds to make his way in the music business, and, you know, changing American culture along the way. We love stories like this. We love our celebrities and we love to see stars being born and rising to new heights. We especially love it when our celebrities started out from the bottom with the rest of us.
I think Elvis’s story can teach us eldercare professionals a lot. My thoughts:
Creativity doesn’t happen “on demand.” Despite their best efforts – bringing the right people together in the right place – Elvis and company didn’t get their big hit on the first take. It took time and openness to the creative process (not to mention the years Elvis had already spent absorbing music and practicing his skills). Creativity can’t happen on demand for us either. It takes openness to the process and the many ideas that come our way.
Creativity requires authenticity. It did not work to sing the tunes that didn’t feel right to him, even if they “should have” been hits. The one that worked was the song that came from Elvis’s authentic voice. We can only be ourselves when bringing music to our seniors. Fortunately, the person you are – no matter who you are – is more than enough.
You don’t have to start from scratch. Even though Elvis broke a lot of rules, he did not write the rule book. In fact, Elvis’s first hit had already been a popular song for someone else. Elvis’s genius came in putting himself, his own personality, into the music that came from others. The ideas, inspiration, and examples of other eldercare professionals are a great place to start.
Creativity requires more than a formula. Elvis followed some conventions, but he also stretched and broke the mold. He would not be admired if he stuck with playing and singing the way it had always been done. We can stick with doing what’s always been done, but when we stretch and experiment, the results could be even more magical.
You don’t have to go it alone. Elvis would never have been the King if not for Sam Phillips, the two musicians who accompanied him, all the musicians who influenced his musical development, and all the other people who surrounded and supported him at various times of life. All this stretching and growing take a great deal of effort! Taking this journey with others makes the path easier for everyone.
The most amazing aspect of Elvis Presley’s music was in its authentic, enthusiastic, open expression. That kind of energy is contagious. As eldercare professionals, we can spread that joy, too.