Elvis Presley, B.B. King, ‘Two Kings’ © Ernest C. Withers at Proud Galleries London

Elvis Presley, B.B. King, ‘Two Kings’

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© Ernest C. Withers
Memphis, U.S.A. December 1957
Accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity

This photography work depicts singer and actor Elvis Presley, posing next to guitarist and singer B.B. King, who was a principal figure in the development of blues and from whose style leading popular musicians drew inspiration. Presley is widely known as the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ and one of rock music’s dominant performers from the mid-1950s until 1977. This legendary shot was captured backstage at a WDIA Goodwill Revue, an important radio station in Memphis for the growth of Rock n Roll and Soul. Elvis listened to WDIA as a teenager. It was the first radio station in the US programmed exclusively for African Americans and featured many notable black radio personalities – including Rufus Thomas, B.B. King started there in 1949 and Nat D. Williams.

From Elvis to Aretha. B.B. King to James Brown. Isaac Hayes to Tina Turner. Withers captured many of the musicians who birthed Rock n Roll, Soul, and Blues as we know it today both as, and after, they got their starts on Beale Street. Early Withers work also includes jazz, gospel and blues greats and pictures inside Beale Street's famed clubs.

About Ernest C. Withers
Ernest C. Withers grew up in Memphis, Tennesse and discovered he had a knack for photography when the glamorous wife of boxing champion Joe Louis visited his school. He developed his craft while stationed overseas with the U.S. Army. He briefly worked as a cop, before being fired for selling whiskey on the side, and then embraced the life of a freelance photographer, shooting everything from funerals to commercials, as well as his favourite subject, Beale Street. Withers would hit the nightclubs early in the evening to photograph revellers out on the town, then run to develop the images and return before the night was over to sell the pictures for a dollar. Here, Withers photographed a young Elvis Presley, a fellow lover of the Memphis nightclub scene, as Presley mingled with Black artists at a local club in the early days of integration.

Ernest C. Withers is most famous for his civil rights photography, capturing pivotal moments of African American history over a span of sixty years, including the Emmet Till Trial, the Black Power Movement, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After his death, Withers cooperation as an FBI informant for the same activists he was photographing was publicized, revealing a complicated relationship between Withers and the Civil Rights Movement.

The Guardian
The Withers Collection
The Intercept
Blind Magazine
The New Yorker
Memphis Magazine

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