Elvis Presley may have been the King of Rock and Roll, but his roots were in gospel music. Raised in the Pentecostal church, Presley regularly attended All-Night Singings in downtown Memphis.
Presley couldn’t read music, but he could play it by ear. He emulated gospel greats like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Even as he skyrocketed to fame as a rock star, he never abandoned his love for gospel. The only Grammy awards he ever won were for his gospel recordings. And he was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Best Elvis Gospel Funeral Songs from “He Touched Me”
- Best Elvis Gospel Songs for a Funeral from “How Great Thou Art”
- Best Elvis Gospel Songs for a Funeral from “His Hand in Mine”
- Best Elvis Gospel Songs for a Funeral from Other Albums
Elvis released three gospel albums before his death. There are a wide array of songs from these albums that could top a list of the best funeral songs of all time. Here we break them down for you, whether you're planning a memorial service, funeral slideshow, or putting together an online funeral for faraway guests.
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1. “Amazing Grace”
Amazing Grace was published as a Christian hymn in 1779. It has been performed countless times by artists from all over the world. Many versions of the song are pristine Anglican takes. Elvis’ version stands out due to the low baritone vocals. And it has the deliberate pacing and intense backing harmonies.
2. “He Touched Me”
Presley won his second Grammy award for this song. The traditional arrangement and heartfelt delivery of the lyrics contributed to that win.
3. “He is My Everything”
The line between religious and romantic love can sometimes blur. This gospel track is every bit as fervent and heartfelt as the most impassioned love song.
4. “Seeing is Believing”
Even religious skeptics can find something to connect to on this track. Taking in the beauty of nature around you can give you the feeling that there are greater forces at work. This song is an ideal selection for a green burial.
5. “Lead Me, Guide Me”
It’s no secret that Presley had his demons. He struggled with prescription drug dependency and died tragically. On this song, you could get a glimpse at the pain below the veneer of the consummate performer. This song is a poignant choice as a song selection. Play it to honor someone who struggled with depression or substance abuse.
6. “Who Am I?”
Even the most brilliant and talented people struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Presley was no different. He found solace in gospel. This song is a reminder that you can find solace in knowing that someone sees you and loves you.
7. “An Evening Prayer”
Many knew Presley because of his drama and showmanship. He used those skills to elevate this simple hymn into something special and magical.
8. “How Great Thou Art”
"How Great Thou Art" is a Christian hymn with Swedish roots. It traveled around the world with missionaries. Elvis kept the reverent tone and the traditional chorale elements to this tune. But he augmented them with uncharacteristically tremulous vocals. And near the end, the tempo ticks up and the fuller gospel-tinged sound swells beautifully.
9. “We Call On Him”
The simple message of these lyrics is overshadowed by the dramatic delivery of this song. On this record, Presley reminds us not to call on God only when we need him. We must also give him thanks. It’s a reminder to not take the people we love for granted.
10. “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
His provocative hip gyrations led many to believe Elvis was sinful. But his voice soaring into the upper register of this spiritual proves otherwise.
11. “Crying in the Chapel”
The title of this song has a clever misdirect that makes you think of a lover jilted at the altar. Instead, the narrator weeps with joy because he is happy to be in church and in the presence of the Lord. Someone with strong faith would appreciate this song choice.
12. “Stand By Me”
Presley was heavily influenced by black performers. But many looked at his performances as a pale imitation. Presley was invested in the music, especially when it came to gospel. He wrote the arrangement for this version.
13. “Where No One Stands Alone”
One of the things that makes gospel music so meaningful is the sense of community it fosters. Elvis Presley was a shy teenager who saw the kind of camaraderie gospel offered. He always sought to recreate that sense of inclusion. Nowhere did he do it better than on this track.
14. “By and By”
This rollicking tune is almost reminiscent of a traditional New Orleans jazz funeral. This exultant track is ideally suited for a Celebration of Life service.
15. “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”
Presley was known for breaking down racial barriers in music. He was heavily influenced by the thriving black music scene in his hometown of Memphis. Presley brings every ounce of his swagger to this traditional African-American spiritual.
16. “His Hand In Mine”
Presley wasn’t always known for nuance and subtlety in his recordings. But this track was surprisingly understated. Presley worked on it with several local gospel luminaries. Their guidance helped him create this simple, yet beautiful version.
17. “Swing Down Sweet Chariot”
This tongue-in-cheek variation of Swing Low Sweet Chariot was one of great influence. It was adapted by mainstream funk band Rufus and sampled in Dr. Dre’s 1992 Grammy-winning rap Let Me Ride. It just goes to show that you never know what will happen when you put something out into the universe.
18. “(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)” from “Peace in the Valley EP”
Before he recorded his full-length gospel efforts, Presley released this four-song LP. It was a tool to gauge public interest in him exploring the genre further. Presley did a tremendous amount of good in the world. In 1957, he performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. He requested that Americans send aid to the government to help Hungarian refugees. His efforts yielded $6 million in donations (equal to ~$50 million today).
19. “I Believe” from “Peace in the Valley EP”
This early effort showed how Presley walked the line between sacred and secular. This song would be a good fit for someone spiritual but not overtly religious.
20. “Somebody Bigger Than You and I” from “Somebody Bigger Than You and I”
Mahalia Jackson had already done this gospel standard to perfection. Presley’s version was a more mainstream take. It features a lush orchestral arrangement. It was a brave and risky choice that is still embraced today.
Gospel Funeral Songs from the King of Rock and Roll
In his short life, Elvis Presley became a musical icon. But for all his success in secular music, it’s fair to say that he had a special connection with gospel. If you’re planning a funeral or memorial service for an Elvis fan there is a wealth of material to choose from.
Even the songs that are more about crossing over aren’t songs about death. Instead, at their heart, they’re songs about life.