Did Elvis Presley Take Singing Lessons?

Rock and roll legend and American icon Elvis Presley was known, first and foremost, for his uncanny singing ability. But did Elvis take singing lessons? After all, it seems almost impossible that someone’s vocal abilities could be so advanced without any formal training.

Author Eric Wolfson answers the question in his new book From Elvis in Memphis, which covers Elvis’s comeback TV special in 1968 and his 10th studio album of the same name, released in 1969. From Elvis in Memphis is part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series.

Elvis Presley performing on the Elvis comeback TV special on June 27, 1968 in Burbank, California.
Elvis Presley performing in the ’68 Comeback Special | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Elvis said he had ‘never had a singing lesson in his life’

According to Wolfson, quoting Jerry Osborne in his 2000 book Elvis: Word for Word, Elvis made it clear in one 1956 interview that he had never had any formal training in music. He simply didn’t see the need.

“‘Nope,’ [Elvis] replied flatly,” Wolfson wrote in From Elvis to Memphis. “‘I’ve never had a singing lesson in my life. No music lesson of any kind, in fact. I just started singing when I was a little kid…and I’ve been doing it ever since.’”

Wolfson argued that this was because the King of Rock and Roll “saw his music as something natural that did not come from any kind of training or formal education.”

Instead, he considered it an innate, inherent gift – something that came from God and thus didn’t need to be cultivated in a formal setting with a teacher or coach. Elvis did consider it vital to protect his voice, but he didn’t think he needed to improve upon it.

Elvis Presley as a child with his parents, Vernon Presley and Gladys Presley
Elvis Presley as a child with his parents, Vernon Presley and Gladys Presley | RB/Redferns

The King of Rock and Roll picked up some of his musical abilities at church

Elvis didn’t take music lessons. He did, however, practice singing while growing up as a member of his Assembly of God Church in Tupelo, Mississippi. Many of Elvis’s fans have noticed the gospel influence in his music and voice over the years. Indeed, he watched the church choir as a young child, rapt with attention at every note.

Drawing from Peter Guralnick’s account of Elvis’s childhood in his 1994 book, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, Wolfson quoted Elvis’s beloved mother, Gladys Presley. Elvis’s mother remembered how much her son adored watching the church choir, even as a toddler. He soaked up everything he could about the music he heard from a young age.

According to Gladys, Elvis would even get down off her lap and toddle over to the platform to watch the choir members up close. It was there that he developed an early interest in music.

“There he would stand looking at the choir and trying to sing with them,” Elvis’s mother recalled. “He was too little to know the words…but he could carry the tune and he would watch their faces and try to do as they did.”

Black and white photo of Elvis Presley performing 'Hillbilly Heartbreak' in Hollywood
Elvis Presley performing | Bettmann via Getty Images

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Elvis Presley viewed his religious background as separate from his musical career

While Elvis learned to sing in church, Wolfson explained, he always saw his heavily religious background and faith-based upbringing as distinct from his secular music career. He emphasized in various interviews over the years that he didn’t consider his music to be religious in nature.

“This is not so much about not taking his music seriously as it was about taking his religion very seriously,” Wolfson wrote, adding: “So he downplayed the secular music as a lark, a joke that he sort of stumbled into.”

Wolfson argued in From Elvis in Memphis that this was because the King of Rock and Roll was especially nervous about getting backlash from his faith community if he publicly associated his controversial performances with their church.