Elvis Presley first met Wanda Jackson in the late 1950s when they went on tour together throughout the USA. Wanda, at the time, was one of the many young up-and-coming country singers who joined the King of Rock and Roll on the road for a year. After spending some time together, the two struck up a relationship that was extremely short-lived. But Elvis would not give up on helping the young woman with her career.
Wanda had a well-established fandom in the 1950s, having just finished high school and hit the road with her band and father/manager. But eventually, Elvis sat her down and had a serious conversation with her.
She recalled in an interview: “The thing that Elvis did for me was giving me the courage to sing this new music like he was doing.”
Elvis pioneered rock and roll music, and he was an expert in his craft. He knew what kind of music would work and how to get mainstream airtime. In fact, he was not far off releasing his iconic track Heartbreak Hotel just months later, the song that would reach number one in the US Singles charts and skyrocket his success. And he wanted Wanda to try out singing like a rock and roll star.
However, the young star was reluctant. She recalled: “I would tell him: ‘I can’t do that, Elvis, because I’m just a country singer! Besides, I’m a girl. I can’t sing that stuff.'”
Elvis would not hear it. He clutched Wanda’s hand and begged her to change her music and perform the way he knew she could, with rock and roll at the core of her sound. He told her: “I know you could if you try.”
Wanda remembered: “He made me promise that I would try.”
After a lot of thought and deliberation, Wanda decided to carry out Elvis’ wishes. She left her first record label in favour of Capitol Records in 1956.
She said: “When I moved to Capitol Records, that’s when I recorded one of my first rock ‘n’ roll songs: I Gotta Know. It was especially written for me. It has a little bit of a country kickoff.” (Via Fox News)
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Reflecting on Elvis urging her to change music styles and write her own music, she mused: “Seems like I always had to be pushed a little bit.”
She enjoyed a powerful career over the following decades, and in 2009, she was finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The official Hall of Fame website describes Wanda as: “One of the first women to break into rock and roll’s boys club. Wanda Jackson is a rockabilly, rock and roll and country artist who sings with wild, reckless abandon. At Elvis Presley’s behest, she crossed over from country to rock, making such riotous hits as Let’s Have a Party.”
In her acceptance speech, she heaped praise on Elvis and his support when she was just a girl.
Wanda stood at the podium and praised the King, saying: “Wanda told the audience: “I’m not standing here alone. I didn’t get here by myself. I probably wouldn’t have made it at all without help.” While listing the people she thanked, she said: “Elvis Presley, just for that bit of encouragement and that push that I needed. I don’t know about y’all, but I feel the presence of Elvis very strongly tonight.”
She concluded: “So, I’ll just say once again: thank you Elvis for encouraging me to try it.”