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U-M music professor composes tribute to the King

December 14, 1994

U-M music professor composes tribute to the King

EDITORS: Elvis Presley, "The King of Rock 'n' Roll," was born at Tupelo, Miss., 60 years ago, on Jan. 8, 1935.

ANN ARBOR—"Dead Elvis," composed in 1993 by Michael Daugherty, associate professor of music at the University of Michigan, pits two clashing Elvis images—the hip, beautiful, genius, thin, rock-and-roll Elvis vs. the vulgar, cheesy, fat, stoned, Las Vegas Elvis.

Daugherty's work for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, violin, double bass and percussion, uses a medieval Latin chant for the Day of Judgment as the principal musical theme. The work was commissioned by Boston Musica Viva and Chuck Ullery, principal bassoonist with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

"This signifies an aspect of the Elivs myth," Daugherty says. "Some people believe Elvis is dead, while others believe he is alive and well in Kalamazoo. Perhaps the question is not whether Elvis is alive or dead, but why does the phenomenon of Elivs endure beyond the grave of Graceland?"

Another question the composer asks while using the bassoon to represent Elvis or an Elvis impersonator is, "Does this rock star sell out his Southern folk authenticity to the sophisticated professionalism of Hollywood movies, Colonel Parker and Las Vegas in order to attain great wealth and fame?"

"Elvis, for better or worse, is part of American culture, history and mythology," says Daugherty. "If you want to understand America and all its riddles, sooner or later you will have to deal with (Dead) Elvis."

Daugherty, who has performed with jazz and funk bands, studied composition at Yale University, in New York, Germany, and in Paris as a Fulbright Scholar, also composed "Elvis Everywhere," a work that looks at three stages of Elvis' life, the Elvis of Memphis and the '50s, Hollywood Elvis of the '60s, and the Las Vegas Elvis of the '70s, as imitated by three different Elvis impersonators.

"What intrigues me," Daugherty says, "is the paradox of an audience knowing that the Elvis impersonator on stage is simultaneously real and unreal. This ambiguity inspired me to bring Kronos and Elvis together in a composition that plays with the endless potential of Elvis repetition, replication, recapitulation and recomposition."

"Elvis Everywhere" is the third of three works Daugherty has written for Kronos. It was commissioned by Philharmonia.

Contact: Joanne Nesbit
Phone: (734) 747-4418
Email: mjnesbit@umich.edu