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70 years ago Elvis recorded what would become his first hit single

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Seventy years ago today, a little-known singer from Tupelo, Miss., recorded what would become his first hit single.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT'S ALL RIGHT")

ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) Well, that's all right, mama. That's all right for you. That's all right, mama, just anyway you do. But that's all right.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

(Singing) That's all right.

That song Elvis Presley recorded was called "That's All Right." And as legend has it, Elvis did not realize he had a hit in his hands.

FADEL: As the story goes, a teenage Elvis had a rough day in the studio. He and his bandmates Scotty Moore and Bill Black were about to pack up and go to bed.

INSKEEP: Until Elvis began singing an old blues song. Here's how guitarist Scotty Moore told it to NPR in 2004.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SCOTTY MOORE: We played probably a couple of hours, and Bill and I were getting ready to go home 'cause both of us all had to work the next day. And Elvis just started playing his guitar and just beating it, practically, and singing "That's All Right."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT'S ALL RIGHT")

PRESLEY: (Singing) That's all right. That's all right now, mama, anyway you do.

FADEL: The tune had been written almost a decade earlier by Delta blues singer Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT'S ALL RIGHT")

ARTHUR CRUDUP: (Singing) Baby, one and one is two. Two and two is four. I love that woman, but I got to let her go. But that's all right.

INSKEEP: The Elvis version caught the attention of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. And when he released Elvis' single, it was an instant smash.

FADEL: But the song's author never achieved the same fame or wealth as Elvis. Crudup got minimal royalties because he didn't hold the rights to his work. His manager did. That was standard practice at the time, particularly for Black performers.

INSKEEP: DownBeat magazine estimates Crudup should have earned the equivalent of millions of dollars in royalties. Instead, for most of his adult life, he drove buses and worked on farms to earn a paycheck until he died in Virginia in 1974. His estate did later receive some royalties, although only a portion.

FADEL: Today he's honored on the Mississippi Blues Trail and in the Blues Hall of Fame. And while Elvis went on to be called the King of Rock 'n' Roll, Crudup is known by many as one of its fathers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT'S ALL RIGHT")

CRUDUP: (Singing) Well, now, that's all right, now, mama. That's all right for you. That's all right, now, mama, anyway you do. But that's all right, that's all right. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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