Elvis Presley should have won enough major awards to fill every room in Graceland, but he didn’t. He won just three Grammys – and not for his dozens of pop and rock hits; all three were in gospel and inspirational categories.
Presley was never even nominated for an Emmy, despite starring in two landmark TV specials, Singer Presents … Elvis (invariably referred to as the 1968 Comeback Special) and Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, a global mega-event which resulted in a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 – Presley’s last in his lifetime — in May 1973.
Elvis was never nominated for an Oscar, which is hardly surprising, given that his movies rarely allowed him to stretch. But this next part is surprising: No songs from Elvis’ 33 feature films were nominated for best original song. Among those that were passed over for a nod: “Love Me Tender,” “Jailhouse Rock” (which is No. 21 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list, compiled in 2004), “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Viva Las Vegas.”
The Grammys began in 1958, so they weren’t around for Presley’s first two years of mega-stardom: 1956 and 1957. But a bigger problem for Presley in the ’50s and early ’60s is that Grammy voters of that era weren’t receptive to rock and roll.
Presley received back-to-back record of the year nominations in 1959 and 1960 for “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “Are You Lonesome To-night?” which logged six weeks at No. 1. These hits lost to Bobby Darin‘s suave “Mack the Knife” and Percy Faith and his Orchestra’s shimmering instrumental “Theme From ‘A Summer Place,'” two of the biggest (and best) hits of the era.
In 1967, after nine years of Grammy Awards, Presley’s Grammy track record stood at a dismal 0-9. His luck changed with his How Great Thou Art album, which won best sacred performance in February 1968. The album had reached No. 18 on the Billboard 200 in May 1967, a strong showing for a religious album.
He won again five years later in a related category, best inspirational performance, for his He Touched Me album. He won his third and final Grammy in that same category for a live version of “How Great Thou Art” taken from his 1974 album Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis.
It would be insulting to Elvis’ legacy that his only Grammys were for gospel and inspirational performances if that music wasn’t, by all accounts, so important to him. Still, the fact remains that one of the greatest pop and rock stars of all time never won a Grammy for pop or rock.
The Recording Academy seemed to understand that it hadn’t done right by Elvis. In 1971, the board of trustees awarded Presley a lifetime achievement award (then called by its original name, the Bing Crosby Award). The inscription read: “In recognition of your artistic creativity and your influence in the field of recorded music upon a generation of performers and listeners whose lives and musical horizons have been enriched and expanded by your unique contributions.”
Presley was just the sixth recipient of this award. The first five recipients – Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Irving Berlin — were much more in the Grammys’ wheelhouse at the time. Presley was the first artist even remotely connected to rock and roll to receive a lifetime achievement award. Presley was just 36 when he received the honor – awfully young to receive a lifetime achievement award. But it’s good that the Academy acted then: Elvis died just six years later.
Seven Presley recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (which was introduced in 1974). One, “That’s All Right,” is from his early Sun Records sessions. Four are from 1956 and 1957, after he moved over to RCA Records but before the advent of the Grammy Awards: “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Two were from the Grammy Awards era, but didn’t win competitive awards: “Are You Lonesome To-night?” and “Suspicious Minds.” (The latter track, Presley’s last No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 in November 1969, wasn’t even nominated for a Grammy.)
Presley received a posthumous Grammy nomination for best country vocal performance for “Softly, As I Leave You.” He had earlier received a nod for best R&B performance for “A Big Hunk o’ Love,” a No. 1 Hot 100 hit from 1959. It’s fitting that Presley’s Grammy nominations encompass both country and R&B categories. Presley’s historic importance in the 1950s was drawing on both of these genres to popularize a new sound.
Presley was never nominated for a Country Music Assn. Award, but he received nods in three key categories at the rival Academy of Country Music Awards. His recording of Mac Davis’ “Don’t Cry Daddy,” a top 10 hit on the Hot 100 for Presley in January 1970, was nominated for a 1969 award for single record of the year; Presley was nominated for a 1970 award for entertainer of the year; and Moody Blue, his 24th and final studio album, was nominated for a 1977 award for album of the year. The album rose to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 following his death, kept from the top spot only by Fleetwood Mac’s blockbuster Rumours and the soundtrack to the box-office smash Star Wars.
Presley was never nominated for a Golden Globe, but Elvis on Tour won a 1973 award for best documentary.
Likewise, Presley was never nominated for an American Music Award (the awards were launched in 1974, three years before his death), but Dick Clark and his team chose Presley to receive the honorary Award of Merit in 1987, 10 years after his death.
Elvis received other career-encapsulating honors.
Presley was among the inaugural class of 10 artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Twelve years later, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was just the fifth person to be inducted into both of these Halls, following Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Bill Monroe.
Presley would have been a cinch to receive the Kennedy Center Honors, but he died the year before they were introduced in 1978 – and they don’t allow posthumous honors for solo artists. (Crosby also died in 1977, and thus also was denied this recognition.)
The National Recording Registry inducted Presley’s Sun Records recordings of 1954-55 in its inaugural class of inductees in 2002, but none of his RCA recordings have been so honored. The good people at the Library of Congress need to take another listen to his RCA recordings. (They can start with the six RCA recordings that are in the Grammy Hall of Fame.) By having none at all, they are suggesting that Presley’s RCA records didn’t fulfill the promise of his Sun recordings. Actually, Presley made many great records for RCA, from “Heartbreak Hotel,” his RCA debut, to “Burning Love,” his propulsive 1972 smash that reached No. 2 on the Hot 100. (It was kept out of the top spot by a hit by another ‘50s veteran: Chuck Berry. But where Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling” was an inane novelty song, “Burning Love” proved that at 37, Presley still had the old fire and drive.)
Two actors received Emmy nominations for playing Presley in TV projects. Kurt Russell was nominated for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or a special for ABC’s Elvis (1979). Jonathan Rhys Meyers was nominated for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or a movie for the CBS miniseries Elvis (2005). In addition, Rhys Meyers won a Golden Globe for the role.
Austin Butler is getting rave reviews for his performance in Elvis. He may very well be nominated for an Oscar for best actor. If he is, this will be the fifth time in the past five years that a performer has been nominated for a lead actor or actress Oscar for playing a famous singer. Rami Malek won for playing Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), Renée Zellweger won for portraying Judy Garland in Judy (2019), Viola Davis was nominated for playing Ma Rainey in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020), and Andra Day was nominated for playing Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2020).
The Fine Print: Earlier this year, two actors were Oscar-nominated for playing public figures who frequently sang, though they aren’t thought of first and foremost as singers. Jessica Chastain won for playing televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and Javier Bardem was nominated for playing actor, bandleader and TV pioneer Desi Arnaz in Being the Ricardos.