On Race, Rock, and Elvis - In Academia and the Media


“This work differs from most studies of rock 'n' roll in that it places its central emphasis on southern working-class culture and its struggles to come to terms with the legacy of racism. It is an ambitious exploration into the efforts made by southern white working-class youths to define themselves and make sense of the massive changes that beset their region after World War II.” -- Bill Malone

“This book is an eye-opener for anyone who wants to understand race, class, and popular culture in the modern South. It is broadly and solidly based in sources, and convincingly and readably argued that rock 'n' roll can be a sound means for recognizing the transformation of the lives of black and white working-class youths in the South of the 1950s and 1960s. It needs to be read by sociologists, anthropologists, and historians, not only by musicologists.” -- Carl Degler

“It is a timely historiographical topic, as recent books are seriously looking at the musical youth culture of the 1950s, but I am convinced Mr. Bertrand's is the best of these studies and will have the most influence.” -- Charles Reagan Wilson

“Michael T. Bertrand has managed to argue more cogently and with more evidential authority than any previous commentator that the music that Elvis Presley and his rockabilly cousins fashioned in the South in the 1950s represented a serious threat to various national and regional social conventions, particularly those relating to race, class, and gender.” -- Journal of American History

“A fine book. It is a very solid and often eloquent work of art. It has certainly influenced my treatment of rock ‘n’ roll.” -- Charles Joyner

“Using fresh documentation, Michael T. Bertrand convincingly argues that the black-and-white character of his sound and audience, as well as Elvis’s own persona, helped to relax the rigid color line and thereby fed the fires of the civil rights movement ¼ It is a sobering lesson for historians who scoff at popular culture as trivia.” -- American Historical Review

“Bertrand’s scholarship is outstanding and extremely thorough and original. His work on the sociocultural background of the emergence of rock and roll and Elvis Presley is groundbreaking.” -- David Evans

“Just when you thought there might be nothing more of value to be written about Elvis Presley and the emergence of rock and roll in the 1950s, Michael Bertrand has produced a refreshingly innovative and sophisticated new study. He breaks new ground, and his assessment of the racial and class dynamics of the South is excellent. Indeed, Bertrand brilliantly cuts through the arrant nonsense about the [dubious] nature of Presley's relationship to black culture and black audiences that has blighted most previous accounts. Leaving aside its many other virtues, this corrective alone would make his book an important addition to American social and cultural history.” -- Brian Ward

“High quality scholarship!” -- Joel Williamson

“In a methodologically sophisticated and evidentially rich text, rock 'n' roll and Elvis are used to examine the thorniest of issues. In the process, the author offers some deeply revisionist readings of southern society in the 1950s. Well researched and closely argued, it is a solid historical analysis.” -- PopMatters

“A compelling new book ¼ With his meticulous research and elegant, concise prose, Bertrand has written an insightful book that both deepens our understanding of rock ‘n’ roll and makes significant contributions to musical studies, southern history, and the history of the civil rights movement. Indeed, Race, Rock, and Elvis would make an excellent book for adoption in undergraduate and graduate history courses, as its provocative arguments and fascinating anecdotes are sure to spark lively classroom discussion.” -- History: Reviews of New Books

“This is a valuable addition to existing scholarship, and will help to shape our thinking and approach to these neglected issues.” -- Bill Ferris

“Intriguing. Bertrand sees Presley as a pivotal figure who arrived on the scene at a time of tremendous change in American history, particularly that of the American South.” -- Boston Globe

“In this ambitious undertaking Bertrand is covering a complex of topics. While the chief aim of this book is cultural analysis, readers are also treated to a wealth of factual information. He manages to sift and kneed the information into a convincing argument for the relevance of popular culture to social change. Along the way he takes to task those cultural critics who reviled and resisted the incursion of “low brow” elements into mainstream culture.” -- Tennessee Historical Quarterly

“This is a good book -- clear, concise, yet bearing ideas and information. It mixes in culture, race, youth, and a few other things well.” -- Thomas Schoonover

“This work is a wonderful mix of critical theory and traditional historical research. For this reason alone it is a valuable work. However, Bertrand's model also effectively documents one of the processes by which cultural identity is formed through popular culture. This book is for those teachers who think the music that their students listen to is ‘just noise’.” -- Multicultural Review

“Extrapolating Bertrand's ideas to the present, we can observe how the oppression shared by poor whites and blacks, an oppression which leaves its victims feeling voiceless in society, can manifest itself in a common style of music.”-- The Duke University Chronicle

“An enjoyable new book on Elvis that acts as social history.” -- David Szatmary

“In his ambitious Race, Rock, and Elvis Michael Bertrand effectively accentuates the class tension contained in rock ‘n’ roll.”

-- Pete Daniel


“Extremely insightful. We are indebted to Michael Bertrand for his aggressive look at popular culture and societal change in the New South. Bertrand's work is a worthy accomplishment that should facilitate new ways of discussing the postwar South.”

-- H-South Review

“This thoroughly readable and redemptive book tackles some major issues. The story of American music is, after all, as complex as the country itself, and yet Bertrand covers most bases with impressive ease. His major contribution, however, is a measured assessment of how rock 'n' roll in some way, really did change the seemingly unchangeable place of its birth.” -- The Irish Times

“A well-written work on popular culture’s role in shaping social attitudes and behavior, particularly as it effected race.” -- Peter H. Wood

" The book has been carefully researched and is concisely argued. It is one of those comparatively few studies that manage to illuminate the complex relations between popular culture and social change." -- European Journal of Communication

“As Bertrand argues, the attraction for young white southerners of rhythm and blues initially and rock 'n' roll eventually had enormous cultural and political consequences.” -- James Salem

“So much of the work on music and race descends into impenetrable cultural studies jargon and simply can’t be assigned to undergrads—Race, Rock, and Elvis was certainly a refreshing exception.” -- Tom Devine

Race, Rock, and Elvis is another carefully prepared volume in the extensive and informative Music in American Life series ¼ .It is a treasure trove for both primary sources and critical analysis.” -- Arkansas Review

“Bertrand’s arguments are always persuasive and his lines of reasoning clear. The book is cleanly written, well annotated and involving. It is not a biography of Elvis Presley, neither is it a history of the civil rights movement, rather it is an investigation that attempts to put into perspective a place, a time and an event. As such it is a thoroughly absorbing piece of work” -- Keith Briggs

“For those who have never really considered how entertainment can influence profound sociological issues of an era (such as race and class), Bertrand's book will give them much to think about.” -- Goldmine Magazine

“Michael T. Bertrand’s analysis of 1950s southern culture is a welcome addition to the historiography of the South.” -- Southern Historian

“Bertrand covers a wide band of material searching for the link between music and social change, examining ideology, politics, and consumerism. In the process he explores crucial issues that defined the post-World War II South.” -- Journal of Southern History

Race, Rock, and Elvis -- three words, each of which can induce a strong, and not always rational response. So what could I expect to find between the covers of this book: a tract attempting to prove that race is irrelevant, that rock and roll saved the world, that in the fight for integration the Reverend King was less instrumental than The King? Accordingly I approached reading it with a degree of curmudgeonly circumspection. I could have spared myself the unhappy anticipation. Michael Bertrand’s sober awareness of his subject’s relationship to broader issues in hand is summed up by a question he both asks and answers in his conclusion: `Did the rock and roll experience help teach a generation how to overcome prejudice? The answer is ¼ maybe .” (my italics) -- Blues and Rhythm: The Gospel Truth Magazine

“It is a superb work; very important and valuable.” -- Bill Shea

“Excellent social history ¼ .Michael Bertrand is a daring and significant voice of dissent in an academic status quo that seeks to sustain a bifurcated version of race relations in America. Although very scholarly and beyond the reach of most fans of Elvis Presley and rock music, this book is rock and roll. It shakes the assumptions of academe, rattles the ivory cages of revisionist historians, and rolls up its sleeves to fight for the working class.” -- Gulf South Historical Review

“An original perspective. Bertrand’s background in the working class of southern Louisiana gives him an unusual understanding of how history happened.” -- Charles Eagles

“Path-breaking work on race, class, and popular culture.” -- Frankie Winchester

“Bertrand’s book is an excellent analysis of the impact of rock ‘n’ roll, offering a fascinating look at racial attitudes of the 1950s South. Anyone seriously interested in rock ‘n’ roll music, cultural development, social history, or just plain Elvis, should enjoy reading -- no, should read -- Race, Rock, and Elvis.” -- David Neale

Race, Rock, and Elvis will become a classic work on the history of culture and race relations in the American South during the twentieth century.” -- Charles Crawford

“Graduate students read Race, Rock, and Elvis in my course last fall on social class in U.S. history. We were talking about African Americans, the South, and social class. The book was a big hit!” -- Kathy Fuller-Seeley

Race, Rock, and Elvis promises to be an important and widely read study of young people of Elvis’ generation in the South.” -- Ted Ownby

“Bertrand examines Elvis Presley not so much as a cultural icon, but as a working-class white male southerner coming of age as the civil rights movement began. His is a nuanced look at the mixture of class, region, gender, race, and popular culture in the generation that came of age in the 1950’s South.” -- Margaret Caffrey

“I plunged into the book eagerly and am finding it very useful in enlarging my thinking about Elvis.” -- Bobbie Ann Mason

“Since this book is a scholarly study, it might be tough going for many readers....Those brave enough to plow through it all will be rewarded.” -- Blue Suede News

“For Michael Bertrand, a historian of the American South, Elvis is a seminal figure who drew heavily from black music. He gave young southerners an attractive model of black-inflected culture that they would need to confront long-standing racial segregation and the massive urbanization of the South.” -- Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator

“Bertrand makes a very good case for why the Elvis Presley/rock and roll phenomenon should not be dismissed or trivialized, historically speaking. He shows clearly and logically how various and complex social, political, economic, regional, and psychological factors came together to effect, via rock and roll music, substantial changes in attitudes toward race, especially in the South.” -- AM Radio Gold

“Michael Bertrand's book Race, Rock, and Elvis offers a new perspective on the emergence of rock 'n' roll music in the 1950s as the dominant identifier of youth culture....He makes a compelling case that the acceptance of black music was a covert response against racism that marked an important turn in southern culture.” -- Journal of Folklore Research

“Bertrand presents several different perspectives and provides so much food for thought.” -- Deidra Jackson

“There are countless numbers of books on Elvis Presley that have been published. Only a few are worth reading. Michael Bertrand’s Race, Rock, and Elvis, I’m proud to say, is one of those few.” -- John Bakke

“A fresh perspective in addressing Elvis in relation to the civil rights era” -- Bill Ellis

“This excellent book connects the cultural shifts Elvis initiated with the political change, especially on civil rights, taking place in the South in the 1950s.” -- Paul Simpson

“Critical focus applied to Elvis Presley as a social phenomenon and historical figure.” -- Knoxville News-Sentinel

“Recommended reading ¼ .In the face of much black criticism of Elvis as a white appropriator of a black genre, Michael T. Bertrand’s Race, Rock, and Elvis contends that the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll helped white southerners to rethink their attitudes toward race.” -- The Guardian

Race, Rock, And Elvis explores how rock 'n' roll's impact helped alter American attitudes toward race, particularly in the South, demonstrating that the race question is a good deal more complicated than it might appear at first glance. Bertrand examines ‑‑ and explodes ‑‑ the continuing charge that Presley ''stole'' his style from African‑American culture.” -- Gillian Gaar

“A great work. It is the book we in Japan have waited for for so long” -- Ayako Maeda

“I have strongly recommended it to my students” -- Erika Brady

“In Race, Rock, and Elvis, Michael Bertrand convincingly argues that Presley helped change the shape of American racial politics. He contends that the tension created in the South between the segregationist old guard and a new generation of white kids attracted to R&B, a group personified by Presley, helped set the stage for the successes of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s.” -- San Antonio Express-News

“The text is really solid and thought-provoking.” -- Judith McCulloh

“An ambitious exploration of the relationship between cultural and political change in the South in the crucial years after World War II. This book will encourage everyone to rethink the role played by rock 'n' roll in American life.” -- Bill Malone

“A fine book that should not be oversimplified.” -- Memphis Commercial Appeal






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