On this day in music history: December 4, 1956 - Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis record together at Sun Studios in Memphis, TN. This informal gathering of these iconic rock and roll and country performers takes place during a recording session for Carl Perkins, who is re-recording “Matchbox” and some other new songs. Jerry Lee Lewis, also a Sun recording artist is present to play piano on the session which is being produced by label founder Sam Phillips. Elvis, who by now is signed to RCA and is in the middle of his initial rush of fame, happens to drop by the studio that day to visit Phillips. Presley and Phillips are talking in the control room of the studio, when Johnny Cash (also a Sun artist) also comes by the studio. Eventually, Elvis, Carl, Johnny, and Jerry Lee end up gathering around the piano and begin an informal jam session, performing several gospel, rock and roll and country standards. Sam Phillips has a tape machine running throughout the jam session, capturing the final results on three reels of tape. The recordings are put in the vault and do see the light of day until twenty five years later when an album titled “The Million Dollar Quartet” is released. An expanded edition of the album is released by RCA Records in 1990 featuring a total for forty six tracks, though most are only song excepts interspersed with studio chatter. Viewed as a once in a life time historic event in music history, “The Million Dollar Quartet” is adapted into a successful stage musical in 2007, with limited runs in Florida and Washington before moving to Broadway in 2010. The musical is a hit on the Great White Way, and is nominated for three 2010 Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. Actor Levi Kreis receives the Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis.
It’s true. The popular conception that country music is a primarily white genre is, well, a white lie. Country is a combination of Appalachian folk music and blues. Some of the very first artists to build out the country appellation were black artists, such as DeFord Bailey, a black harmonica player and Grand Ol’ Opry star, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Charley Pride, who became RCA’s best-selling artist since Elvis in the ‘70s. Then there’s the little-known history of the banjo — it’s not as white as you think.