Elvis and Jake Hess

Several Elvisblog articles have been reprinted in the new 29th Anniversary issue of Elvis…The Magazine.  One was “Elvis and the Grammy Awards,” originally posted on Elvisblog on January 8, 2006.  In the article I said that Elvis won the Best Sacred Performance Grammy in 1967, and he was nominated in the same category in 1968 for “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” but he lost to Jake Hess.  Then I added:  (Has anybody ever heard of Jake Hess?)  In the last paragraph of the story, I mentioned that Elvis received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1991.  In an attempt at humor, I added, “Jake Hess is still waiting for his.”


Well, it turns out that one avid Gospel music listener named Harriet Heigl has not only heard of Jake Hess, she is a big fan.  She took offense to my comments and sent an e-mail to Elvis…The Magazine to register her displeasure.  She went on to list Jake Hess’ many achievements, and I must admit they are pretty impressive.  After some research, I now know that Jake Hess was a superstar in the world of Southern gospel music. If I had known that back in January, I would never have said those things.  In fact, now that I’ve studied up on Jake Hess, I know he is enshrined in The Gospel Music Hall of Fame, he received four Grammy Awards, and he performed well into his seventies as part of Bill Gaither’s Homecoming gospel video series.  Honestly, I’m surprised the Grammy people have not yet given Jake Hess a Lifetime Achievement Award in gospel music.


To me, the best news about Jake Hess is discovering that he had a strong Elvis connection.  In 1948, Jake Hess became the lead singer of The Statesmen Quartet.  For the next fifteen years, this legendary group recorded for RCA Victor, appeared on network television shows, and created one of the first syndicated gospel music TV shows.  In 1953 and 1954, Elvis, Vernon and Gladys were regulars at the monthly “All-Night Gospel Singing” at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis.  Gladys’ favorites were the Blackwood Brothers, but Elvis much preferred the Statesmen Quartet.  Lead singer, Jake Hess, had a powerful voice and unique styling that young Elvis particularly admired.  It turns out Jake Hess had a profound influence on the future King of Rock & Roll.


In 1963, Jake Hess founded The Imperials, and introduced the guitar, bass, and drums to Gospel music — a bold move for the times.  Three years later, Elvis was thrilled to have The Imperials do backing vocals during the recording sessions for the album How Great Thou Art.  Several times during the sessions, Elvis tried unsuccessfully to hand off the lead mic to Jake Hess.  Elvis was so pleased to have Jake on hand that he gave an inspired performance.  The album How Great Thou Art has been hailed as one of the highlights of Elvis’ sixties recordings, and it won the 1967 Grammy Award for Best Sacred Performance.  How Great Thou Art sold over one million copies and went to # 18 on the charts.  Noted Elvis historian Ernst Jorgenson called the album, “tough, powerful, even threatening – different from any religious music Elvis had ever recorded.”  Jake Hess made the difference.


When Elvis died in 1977, funeral preparations included selecting an elite group of Gospel music stars to sing at the service:  JD Sumner and the Stamps, The Statesmen, James Blackwood, Kathy Westmoreland – and Jake Hess.  (Hess also sang at the 1953 funeral for Hank Williams).


So, let’s see.  Jake Hess greatly influenced Elvis’ performing style.  He recorded with and inspired Elvis to new artistic and commercial heights on a Gospel album.  And he sang at Elvis’ funeral service.  It seems like anyone who considers himself a serious Elvis fan would know about Jake Hess.  Yes, I blew it, and Harriet, I am sorry. If I offended any Elvisblog readers as well, I apologize.  Should anyone decide to start a petition to get Jake Hess a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award, I’ll be glad to sign up.  He deserves it.


©  2006   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.elvisblog.net

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