Elvis Presley: What Was His Ethnicity and Family History?

Elvis Presley is remembered for his music and movies, however, his ethnicity is less well-known. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll had a multicultural background. Here’s a look at his ancestry — and how one of his movies reflected it.

Elvis Presley | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The history of Elvis Presley’s Native American ethnicity

Firstly, here’s a look at Elvis’ ethnicities on his mother’s side. Elvis had some Native American ancestry, specifically Cherokee ancestry. According to the book Elvis and Gladys, his maternal great-great-great grandmother was a Cherokee woman named Morning White Dove. Morning White Dove married a man named William Mansell, who was of French ancestry. They got married at a time when marriage between Native Americans and white people was not uncommon in the American South.

As a teenager, Mansell fought alongside future president Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Mansell and Morning White Dove had three children who survived to adulthood, including Elvis’ great-great-grandfather, John Mansell. John fathered a son named White.

The history of Elvis Presley’s Jewish ethnicity

According to Snopes, White married Martha Tackett. Tackett had a Jewish mother. Elvis and Gladys reports Tackett became the mother of Doll Mansell, who became the mother of Gladys Presley, Elvis’ mom. Gladys has a Star of David on her gravestone, an acknowledgement of her heritage.

Vernon, Elvis, and Gladys Presley near curtains
Vernon, Elvis, and Gladys Presley |Bettmann / Contributor

RELATED: John Lennon Liked 1 Elvis Presley Hit Better Than All The Beatles’ Songs

How Elvis’ family got the last name ‘Presley’

Elvis’ paternal line is very different. According to Elvis Australia, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was descended from a German vine dresser named Johannes Valentin Bressler who moved to New York in 1710. As time when on, the family’s last name evolved from Bressler to Presley.

Bressler’s was the ancestor of a woman named Minnie Mae, who became the mother of Vernon Presley. Vernon was Elvis’ father. In honor of Minnie Mae, there’s an ice cream parlor named Minnie Mae’s Sweets in Memphis, Tennessee — the same city Graceland is in.

The time Elvis played a Native American

Some fans might be surprised to learn that Elvis had Native American heritage. However, one of his movies reflects this heritage. Elvis starred in a Western musical/drama called Flaming Star in 1960. In the film, he played a man with a Native American mother and a white father. While many Westerns portray Native Americans in a negative light, Flaming Star is sympathetic in its portrayal. The film was released during the civil right movement and arguably mirrors changing attitudes about race in America.

Elvis Presley and Dolores Del Rio in Flaming Star | 20th Century Fox/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

RELATED: Elvis Presley’s Former Bodyguard Once Claimed the King of Rock and Roll Had a Strict Rule About Priscilla Presley – And Those Who Broke It Got the ‘Third Degree’

How Native Americans responded to Elvis’ role

According to the book Elvis Presley: Silver Screen Icon, the Los Angeles Tribal Indian Community liked Elvis’ performance in the film. Because of this, the community inducted him into their tribe. Despite this positive reception toward the film, it didn’t become a huge box office success. Neither did it produce an enduring soundtrack single like “Jailhouse Rock” or “Blue Hawaii.” Regardless, Flaming Star reflected Elvis’ multicultural roots.