Priscilla Presley at Collingwood: How to explain Elvis to kids

Priscilla Presley is scheduled to attend the 20th annual Collingwood Elvis festival. How do you explain who Elvis was to kids? Sometimes it is easiest to just play his music.

Priscilla Presley is scheduled to attend the 20th annual Collingwood Elvis Festival in July. This 2012 file image shows actress Priscilla Presley as part of a promotion for the Great American Steamboat Company.

The music of Elvis has lasted as an iconic cultural influence, even touching children today with the power given to it by its roots in gospel, where the songs attain a lot of their soul and everlasting swing.

As his ex-wife, actress Pricilla Presley, and those attending the 20th  annual Collingwood Elvis Festival with her this weekend know, the King may be gone, but his music and persona are permanent rhinestones on our cultural jumpsuit.

But kids may give a quizzical look as parents and grandparents get excited about the world's largest Elvis celebration.

The 5-day festival runs from July 23-27 in Collingwood, Ontario, and includes hundreds of artists paying tribute to Elvis's entire career. 

That’s a whole lotta Elvis goin’ on, uh-huh.

However, Elvis’s music never really stopped its march across time for my kids and many others, whether they know it or not. 

Elvis’s music got its start in Tupelo, Mississippi’s gospel. Those familiar melodies and cadences that bind us on a deeper cultural level, and have helped his work stand the test of time. Nearly every account of Elvis’s early life and career mentions how deeply he was influenced by gospel music. He even had gospel groups as his backup singers.

Maybe that’s one reason that in 2013 Elvis was declared the most frequently streamed artist, topping Pearl Jam, Springsteen, and even The Beatles, according to USA Today. 

It’s not really all that surprising that he’s such a heavy cultural influence on our kids, even if they don’t realize it.

Because I have reached the age when songs I enjoyed as a kid are now called “oldies” or “classic rock,” the radio stations I listen to often drop an Elvis tune into the mix every now and then. I smile when one of my sons is momentarily fooled into thinking the rockabilly Elvis songs like “Blue Suede Shoes” or “Hound Dog” are some new artist as they bop along with me, thinking I have suddenly become hip to something current.

In those moments, I get to surprise them by explaining that the guy who wrote that song died 37 years ago.

However, the oldies or classic-rock stations aren’t the only places my kids have experienced the musical influence of the King.

Christian rocker and former American Idol contestant Colton Dixon took the rock 'n' roll pilgrimage to Elvis Presley's Graceland on April 5, 2013. 

Many modern artists have dropped Elvis into their lyrics as a cultural reference from "Velvet Elvis" by Weird Al Yankovic to "Without Me" by Eminem.

When I asked my youngest son Quin, age 10, this morning if he knew who Elvis was he said, “Of course, he’s the one with the popped collar and all the moves. Stitch played him in the movie.”

I had to look that up.

Turns out Quin was talking about Disney’s film “Lilo and Stitch” and a scene where the little alien creature named Stitch impersonates Elvis singing “Devil in Disguise” clad in the classic white rhinestone jumpsuit. 

Rhinestones, Vegas, and hip twitches are not the original influences that made Elvis's work immortal. It’s the deeper inspiration that runs through his work and ultimately speaks to us and our children today.

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