How Did Elvis Get His Shake and Wiggle?
Elvis Was Not the First Shake, Rattle and Roller
It is difficult to find any entertainer who has affected musical history the way Elvis Presley has. His musical fans span over five generations. His birthday and death are recognized and venerated the world over. He did a shake and wiggled his way into public scrutiny and later into the hearts of the masses. Elvis, however, was not the first to shake, rattle, and roll. The young progenitor of the 1950s cultural phenomenon called rock and roll studied black entertainers like Uke Kid Burse, aka Ukelele Ike.
A Young Elvis Meets "Uke Kid Burse"
Shaking and Wiggling
In the 1950's a young Elvis burst on the scene with much controversy. His dark, greased hair, jazzy style of dress, and revolutionary vocals launched him into stardom. The thing that really got the attention of America and the world was the shaking and wiggling that he did as he adopted the movements of Ukulele Ike ("Uke Kid Burse").
Elvis Imitates Ukelele Ike
People Went Wild Over Elvis
The thing that really got the attention of America and the world was the shaking and wiggling that Elvis did as he adopted the movements of Ukulele Ike ("Uke Kid Burse").
Robert Henry, a music promoter who befriended the young Elvis, was quoted as saying: “…he [Elvis] would watch the colored singers, understand me, and then he got to doing it the same way as them. He got that shaking, that wiggle, from Charlie Burse, Ukelele Ike we called him, right there at the Gray Mule on Beale. Elvis, he wasn’t doing nothing but what the colored people had been doing for the last hundred years. But people . . . people went wild over him” [(p. 57) Dead Elvis by Greil Marcus].
A Young Elvis Admired Ukelele Ike (“Uke Kid Burse”)
Charlie Burse was born in Decatur, AL in 1901. He learned to play guitar and banjo before moving to Memphis in 1928.
Extremely skilled on guitar, banjo, mandolin and ukulele, Charlie Burse later became known as "Uke Kid." He was also known as "Ukulele Ike" [Not to be confused with Cliff Edwards the singer and voice actor whose fame rose in the 20’s and 30’s (Singin' In The Rain ,1929) and who later did the voice of Walt Disney’s Jiminy the cricket].
He got that shaking, that wiggle, from Charlie Burse, Ukelele Ike we called him, right there at the Gray Mule on Beale.— Robert Henry_Music Promoter and Friend of Elvis
On many occasions, a young Elvis would go to gaze at, and to admire the performances of Ukulele Ike as he played at The Gray Mule, on Beale Street, in Memphis. Ukulele Ike performed with leg jerks, arm swings, riveting hips and all. Young Elvis took in every move and adopted the techniques of "Uke Kid Burse" into his own performances.
A Young Elvis Admires Ukelele IKe
Young Elvis Admires Ukulele Ike ("Uke Kid Burse")
Charlie Burse, aka "Ukelele Ike"
Ukelele Ike was:
- Born August 25, 1901 in Decatur, AL
- Proficient with the guitar, banjo, mandolin and ukelele
- Performed as a vocalist
- Could keep rhythm using the spoons
- Joined Will Shade's Memphis Jug Band in 1928
Passed away on December 20, 1965
Ukelele Ike ("Uke Kid Burse")
An historic video, of Will Shade and Charlie Burse, shows Charlie Burse, "Ukulele Ike," who is seated as he performs. Reminiscent of what happened when Elvis was viewed on television; although seated, Ukelele Ike is viewed mostly from the waist up. Burse is 57 years old in the video. He is performing with his "Memphis Jug Band" friend Will Shade who is 60 years old in the video. Charlie Burse or "Ukelele Ike" was also called Laughing Charlie and his friend and fellow band member Will Shade was also known as Son Brimmer. They are performing the Jim Jackson song "Kansas City Blues." This was part of a television special called "Blues Street" which was produced in 1958. Ukelele Ike is playing resonator tenor guitar and Will Shade is playing trashcan bass. They had been playing together for 30 years.
Who Was Ukulele Ike?
Before reading this article, did you know who Ukulele Ike was?
Blue-Eyed Soul Brother
Escorting young Elvis to the Gray Mule to see Ukelele Ike was one of the many ways that Beale Street promoter Robert Henry was able to show the aspiring teen the ropes on Beale Street. Henry supported Elvis as he secured a gig at Amateur Night on Beale, which was hosted by radio personality, teacher, and Mayor of Beale Street, Nat D. Williams.
We had a boast that if you made it on Beale Street, you can make it anywhere. And Elvis Presley made it on Beale first.— Nat D. Williams_Host of Amateur Night on Beale
The crowd at the Palace Theater, known for being harsh and merciless to those it did not like, was at first reluctant to accept the young, blue eyed, soul brother. As he began to shake and wiggle and blare out his distinctive vocals, the crowd began to see that the young man really had soul.
Nat D. Williams was known to have stated: "We had a boast that if you made it on Beale Street, you can make it anywhere. And Elvis Presley made it on Beale first."
He Became a Crowd Favorite
It was felt that if you could survive Amateur Night on Beale you could make it anywhere.
The young teenage Elvis not only survived, but soon became a favorite of the fault-finding crowd.
Nat D. Williams was quoted as saying: “We had a lot of fun with him [Elvis]. Elvis Presley on Beale Street when he first started out was a favorite man. When they saw him coming out, the audience always gave him as much recognition as they gave any musician—black. He had a way of singing the blues that was distinctive. He could sing ‘em not necessarily like a Negro, but he didn’t sing ‘em altogether like a typical white musician. He had something in between that made the blues sort of different . . . . Always he had that certain humanness about him that Negroes like to put in their songs. So when he had a show down there at the Palace, everybody got ready for something good. Yeah. They were crazy about Presley” [(p. 57) Dead Elvis by Greil Marcus].
The Rest Is History
Rock-and-roll pioneer Samuel Cornelious Phillips opened Sun Studio at 706 Union Avenue, in Memphis, on January 3, 1950. Sun Studio, originally called Memphis Recording Service, is the studio where Elvis recorded his first single record ("'Big Boy' Crudup‘s ‘That’s All Right’") in 1954. Phillips is said to have commented that if he could find a white kid who could sing with the same feeling as the black Bluesmen on Beale, he would make a million dollars. Elvis came along and the rest is history.
Take Me Back To Beale, Book II (During The Red Ball). Dir. Carolyn Yancy-Gunn. Edited by Robert Odell, Jr. Perfs. Arthur Smith, Tony Patterson, CFA Graduates. DVD. CFA Productions, Inc. Archives