In The Ghetto
The gritty sidewalks of Washington, DC are no place for a celebrity, yet Blelvis, the 34 year-old Elvis expert, calls them both home and stage.
Dec 1 2001, 12:00am
The gritty sidewalks of Washington, DC are no place for a celebrity, yet Blelvis, the 34 year-old Elvis expert, calls them both home and stage. If you haven’t heard of him then you’ve never been to DC. Without the advantages and trappings of a backing band or publicity machine, Blelvis’ uncanny ability to sing all 732 of Elvis Presley’s songs perfectly has made him a local legend, one dollar at a time.
It was a sentimental Blelvis I sat down with recently. Another night in the pen after a misunderstanding with the DC police had left him dazed and ragged, but ready to reminisce. "One night I was working 18th St., and this girl says, ‘Oh Blelvis, sing something sweet to me.’ So I start doing ‘Tender Feeling,’ and the guy she’s with is, like, turning red. So I finish and she grabs me and says, ‘Blelvis, you’re coming home with me tonight.’ I look down, though, and the guy’s, like, shakin’ his hand, holding a twenty behind his back. I’m thinking, ‘Hmmm…do I want this twenty or a night of unbridled sex?’"
A life of choosing between money and sex didn’t come easy for the ebony king. He’s come a long way from the eleven year-old kid who first heard Presley’s music on the day of his death. "We all listened to black music, black stations – Kool and the Gang. That was, like, the sound. But Elvis was on every station that day and I just got all caught up in it. That was the day I became an Elvisologist. And the other kids at school would freak out, man. ‘Why you listening to that shit?’ It was rough."
After a decade of collecting records and educating himself in all things King-like, Blelvis took his smooth baritone voice and backing group, the Sun Blisters, onstage for the first time. "They played awhile and then I jumped up out of nowhere and started singing. It was just like an Elvis movie. Then this girl throws a bra onstage, and it lands right on the Heineken I’m holding in my hand. Big-ass bra. I’m like, ‘Holy shit… OK. I like show business.’"
In 1989, Blelvis’ blossoming career took a breather when he decided to leave the spotlight to study theology at a university in Denver. He thrived at school, impressing the priests with his ambitious concept of a Presleyterian faith that would combine his two passions, Jesus Christ and Elvis, into one celestial order.
Two weeks before he was to earn his degree, Blelvis fell in love with a prostitute named Donna. She convinced him that a pimp’s life in Montana could be heavenly, too, so off they went. Donna ended up in jail, while Blelvis returned to DC to reclaim the glory he left behind.
This time, Blelvis went solo and took his act to the streets. He’s been building on it ever since. For a dollar, he’ll challenge you to stump him with the most obscure Elvis request you can conjure up. In all these years, he’s proud to say he’s never been shown up in his work. Not even by his own children, Elvison and Elvisa. "A lot of people see me as a street person, a bum. If you travel these streets, you’ll see guys shaking cups, begging for change. Now, I’ve never done that and I never will. As an Elvisologist, I’m out there performing a service. There’s a thin line between what I do and what they do but I’ve never crossed it."
Like all entertainers and street people, Blelvis has his share of rough nights. He’s a creature of faith, though, and a new wave of ambition he’s feeling will hopefully put those rough nights behind him soon enough. "My last show was late 98 but none of the band showed up except my scarf man. ‘Cept instead of scarves he passed me bottles of Steel Reserve 211. I had ’em rolling, though. Now I’m working to get the act off the street and back onstage again." We’re ready Black Elvis.