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Was Elvis Presley Roma?

wayne nakamurawayne nakamura ✭✭✭✭
edited November 2013 in History Posts: 169
I've been reading Garth Cartwright's book "Princes Amongst Men Journeys with Gypsy Musicians". In the chapter on Esma Redzepova: We Are Guests on This Earth, Esma is quoted:

"'Elvis Presley was a Gypsy. Da. I know these things. He never admitted it but he was a Rom.'

So says Esma Redzepova Teodosievska as we talk all things Gypsy over scalding Turkish coffee. It's an entertaining suggestion and, undoubtedly, carries a certain logic; the Memphis Flash's tan beauty, gentle nature and ability to blend and reshape any music he inhaled is symbollic of Balkan Roma. Any truth to it? Where Esma's concerned, simply print the legend. More importantly, I imagine Esma's making a connection of sorts; she being the Queen of the Gypsies, Elvis the King of Rock'n'Roll. Think about it: arising from 1950s urban poverty, Elvis galvanising poor black and white Southern US music, Esma reinventing Roma and Slav music(s) of the southern Balkans, two adolescent sirens who sang and danced with a bewitching feedom. Before Elvis and Esma white trash and Roma women had no cultural presence, existing only as caricature. E & E proudly marked their peoples on the world map."

In the chapter: Guca: The Rave That Time Forgot, the author writes:

"Legend has Miles Davis, in Belgrade when Yugoslavia could still host jazz festivals, being played a recording of a Gypsy brass orkestar. Miles, astonished, replies, 'I didn't know a trumpet could sound like that.' Maybe his forefathers did; maybe the retuning of brass instruments invoked by African Americans in New Orleans came with a little help from a people who'd also have been considered 'colored' (or, maybe, 'Creole'). It's been written that there are Afro-Roma communities in Louisiana, dating back to the nineteenth century."

This is something that really got me thinking. I've often thought Elvis was gypsy. If not in heritage, then somehow in spirit. Sometimes I think most great musicians have some connection to gypsy/Roma. I wonder if Michael Jackson's last guitarist, Orianthi, might have Roma heritage?

In the book Chariots of the Gods, Erich von Däniken postulated that things like the pyramids, Stonehenge, Easter Island, etc. were built by aliens. I have a somewhat similar theory that many of the great musicians have some connection to Gypsy/Roma heritage or culture. No proof, just a theory. For instance I find it easy to believe that many of the great jazz players might have this connection. Bird, Pee Wee Russell, Jack Teagarden, Art Pepper. These players not only had great musical ability, they also seemed to embrace life (often to excess) in a manner similar to guys like Tschavolo Schmitt. A sort of "don't cap the bottle, I'm not finished... approach to life".

How about someone like Hank Williams. Prolific songwriter, lived life in the "Now", always on the road.

It's cold in Toronto today and I may be just babbling but do you think any of this might be true? Even if it isn't, if you've humoured me this far, can you think of any other great musicians who might share this connection? Just idle (idol) speculation. Like Esma said "simply print the legend".


  • Brain Freeze :lol: :lol: :lol:
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 547
    This question isn't as silly as it sounds at first. Elvis was a melungeon and so am I - melungeon heritage is another subject I have been interested in off-and-on for a long time. Over the last 10 years or so, much of the mystery of the melungeons has been cleared up by the geneticists. We know that melungeon DNA is Mediterranean and almost certainly entered the USA on the South Carolina coast. There isn't really any such thing as "melungeon culture" but there are things that do characterize these people. This is where the speculative link to roma comes from. There are similarities. And as appalachians, melungeons are intermixed with scots-irish, indians and so on. There isn't any oral history among melungeons going back to the roma, though some melungeons do claim roma heritage. I don't know of any solid genetic link yet but many writers and researchers have made a compelling case for the melungeon-roma connection. I'm a skeptic - I think this is mostly projection but it's still an interesting mystery.

    It's hard to define what makes a melungeon. I have most of the accepted physical characteristics, except that I am fair and blond. And my Kentucky family had all the "cultural" markers. Elvis? He was a textbook melungeon, every visible trait was clearly defined.

    There are many articles concerning the melungeon-roma connection on the internet, like this one: ... -roma.html

    If you type 'melungeon roma' into google there is a lot of information there.

    Abe Lincoln was another famous melungeon, though this group does not include many famous people.
  • stublastubla Prodigy Godefroy Maruejouls
    Posts: 386
    Interesting.One things for sure though--quite a few Roma think they're Elvis:-)
  • WColsherWColsher PhiladelphiaNew
    Posts: 53
    I'm probably taking this too seriously but...

    Elvis had a great grandmother who was Jewish and a 3-Great-grandmother who was Native American; none of the family trees readily available online indicate any African heritage. So I suppose you could call him Melungeon, though the lack of African heritage would tend to be counter-indicative. (Yes, some people claim Tackett as a Melungeon name but it's not on the "primary" list and besides, the Tackett connection is the Jewish g-g-mother.)

    Now, (at least according to the wikipedia article) what documented DNA testing has been done on self identified Melungeons indicates a predominately Mediterranean (Portugal, Spain and Italy) /African origin. The Kennedy study that claims "Eurasian/African/Native American" origins appears to have been very poorly done and never peer-reviewed. The notion of defining physical characteristics appears to be based on anecdote, not genetic evidence.

    So... based on half an hour of online browsing, my non-technical opinion is Elvis' family was an unsurprising mixture for the rural south of the USA given it's early 18th C. roots in the area. But Roma? Nope.

    But hey - Moore, Perkins and Gibson are common Melungeon names! Perhaps Scotty, Carl and Orville were members of the tribe. That's it! Rock 'n' Roll is a Gypsy plot to steal our children! :lol:
  • wayne nakamurawayne nakamura ✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 169
    scot and WColsher:

    Thanks for the info.

    "Perhaps Scotty, Carl and Orville were members of the tribe. "

    Well Scotty and Carl sure could swing so they fit one of the requirements.

    Fascinating stuff.

    And Stubla I agree with your observation. I've seen people on Toronto streets who I'm sure were Roma and they had that certain physical "something" that EP had. In addition to the Presley-like looks, it's almost like a Royal bearing.

    Then again, I've see many Roma who are definitely channeling "later period", peanut butter and bacon sandwich, Elvis. ;-)
  • BarengeroBarengero Auda CityProdigy
    Posts: 527
    Here you can find a family tree of Elvis: ... Elvis1.htm

    "Pressler" and "Frantz" are very typical german Sinti names.

    The austrian Clarinetist "Fatty" George was a Pressler, too.

    So Elvis was not Roma, but Sinto.

    Best regards

  • LeeWinterLeeWinter New
    Posts: 18
    Hi Stuart i have heard about this before but i have my strong doubts about Elvis being a Gypsy,
    i actually heard he made a comment about burning Gypsys not sure if that's true ether? so many myths about Elvis its hard to say which if any are true but i remember a newspaper article claiming Presley was a Scottish name?

    Charley Chaplin by way of some decent info was from Gypsy stock through his mother who was attached to the black patch Smiths. Smith is a common Gypsy name probably just because it is so widely common it was a good English name to adopt after interning the country.

    to become a bad Gypsy jazz player would be a fine accomplishment!
  • LeeWinterLeeWinter New
    Posts: 18
    Barengero wrote:
    Here you can find a family tree of Elvis: ... Elvis1.htm

    "Pressler" and "Frantz" are very typical german Sinti names.

    The austrian Clarinetist "Fatty" George was a Pressler, too.

    So Elvis was not Roma, but Sinto.

    Best regards


    i stand very much corrected i missed the other posts for some odd reason i could only see Stuarts post when i first posted.

    to become a bad Gypsy jazz player would be a fine accomplishment!
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