How One Elvis Comment Made His Back Up Singers Walk Off The Stage

How One Elvis Comment Made His Back Up Singers Walk Off The Stage | I Love Classic Rock Videos

via The Ed Sullivan Show / Youtube

The King of Rock and Roll wasn’t just about the electrifying performances that sent shockwaves through the music scene. Elvis Presley was a master of captivating audiences beyond the music.

His charisma extended beyond the songs, as he’d weave casual conversation into his sets.  He’d share funny anecdotes about his family, his interests, or simply whatever crossed his mind in that moment.

These impromptu chats with the crowd became a beloved part of the Elvis experience, adding a layer of intimacy and personal connection. However, Elvis’s off-the-cuff remarks sometimes landed with a thud instead of a roar of laughter.

One particularly infamous incident involving his talented backup singers turned an attempt at humor into a moment of public humiliation, leading to a dramatic exit that left both the singers and the audience speechless.

A King’s Off-Key Joke

The year was 1975, and the King was in the midst of a concert. As the spotlight shifted, Elvis Presley took a moment to introduce a familiar face on stage – his background singer, Kathy Westmoreland.

Their personal lives, however, weren’t mirroring the bright lights. They were currently in an “off” period, a fact that would soon become painfully clear to both the audience and Kathy herself.

Instead of a warm introduction, Elvis’s words took a sharp turn. Fueled by what can only be speculated as personal tension, his comments about Kathy became increasingly vulgar and inappropriate. According to Peter Guralnick’s biography, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, Elvis launched into a series of off-color remarks.

He repeatedly told the audience that Kathy was overly affectionate, suggesting in a crude manner that she readily accepted “affection from anybody, any place, any time.” He even went so far as to imply the entire band had been the recipient of her supposed advances. These remarks, intended as a joke, landed with a resounding thud, leaving both Kathy and the audience stunned.

A Comment That Silenced The Crowd

The spotlight shifted once more, and Elvis began introducing his backing group, the Sweet Inspirations, a talented ensemble known for their powerful vocals. However, his words took a turn for the worse.

According to biographer Steve Dunleavy in his book Elvis: What Happened?, Elvis made a crude remark about the singers’ breath, suggesting it reeked of catfish, a clear jab at soul food, a staple of African American cuisine.

The audience fell silent, the weight of the comment hanging heavy in the air. This wasn’t just a tasteless joke – it reeked of prejudice. To make matters worse, Elvis reportedly followed up by telling the women that if they didn’t appreciate his “humor,” they were free to leave. This ultimatum proved too much to bear.

The shock and humiliation were evident. One by one, members of the Sweet Inspirations, including Estelle and Sylvia, broke down in tears and walked off the stage. Westmoreland followed suit, leaving the audience stunned and the concert in disarray.

The King Got Into a “Maniacal” Tirade

The stage was left sparsely populated. Myrna Smith, the sole remaining backup singer, stood stoic amidst the unfolding drama. Elvis, ever the showman, continued the performance, but the joy was clearly gone. The audience, left reeling from the incident, offered a muted response.

The tension carried over even after the curtain fell. Dunleavy’s Elvis: What Happened? details the chaotic car ride back from the venue. Elvis, according to bodyguard Dave Hebler, erupted in a furious rant.

Surrounded by his entourage – Red West, Hebler himself, Dick Grob, Joe Esposito, and a blonde companion from Georgia – Elvis vented his anger. Hebler describes the scene as “maniacal,” with everyone scrambling to calm the King down.

The once lively group now sat in an atmosphere thick with tension, a stark contrast to the electric energy of the concert. Elvis’ rage, a stark follow-up to the stunned silence of the audience, painted a grim picture of a night gone terribly wrong.

A Reluctant Apology

The fallout from the concert was significant. Elvis’ inner circle, concerned about the public image damage, urged him to apologize. However, Elvis remained stubbornly defiant. According to his friend Jerry Schilling, Elvis flatly refused to take responsibility for his actions.

He even suggested Jerry act as his “emissary” to smooth things over, a request Jerry wisely declined. Elvis’ arrogance was evident in his dismissive remarks about the Sweet Inspirations and Westmoreland. He reportedly declared, “To hell with them. Myrna can just come out with me. Who needs the Sweets in the show anyway?”

Despite his initial resistance, cooler heads prevailed. Elvis eventually managed to mend fences with both The Sweet Inspirations and Kathy Westmoreland, presumably offering some form of apology. 

The show, however, would forever be marred by the incident, a stark reminder of the darkness that could sometimes cloud the King’s brilliance.

The King Who Talked Too Much

The legendary King of Rock and Roll was known for his onstage banter. He’d chat with the audience, sharing stories and jokes, creating a unique connection.

This became so prominent that an entire album, Having Fun With Elvis on Stage, was compiled solely from these candid moments. However, for some fans, this talkativeness became a turn-off.

Elvis’s record label saw the banter as an opportunity to capitalize on his popularity. But according to bodyguard Sonny West, fans craved the “old Elvis magic” – the electrifying performances they paid to see.

West even claimed there were shows where Elvis spent so much time talking, he seemed to forget he was supposed to be singing. These lengthy monologues, filled with “philosophies on life,” left the audience feeling bored and disappointed. The King’s charm was undeniable, but sometimes, the music spoke louder than words.