Posted by Craig Borlase on 27 May 2016

"I want you to know this,” said Elvis Presley to an interviewer in 1956. “I believe in God, I believe in Him with all my heart. I believe all good things come from God… the way I feel about it, being religious means that you love God and are really grateful for all He's given and are really want to work for him. I feel deep in my heart that I'm doing all of this. And I pray that if I'm wrong in feeling the way I do, God will tell me.”

The story of the faith of Elvis Presley could fill an entire book. Yet it can also be told through his relationship with just one song.

How Great Thou Art! was less than twenty years old when Elvis first heard it, yet he agreed it was good enough to put on an album.

In 1966 he went into RCA Studio B in Nashville to record his first version of the song. His friend Jerry Shilling was watching from the control room as Elvis belted the song out with all his heart and soul.

Jerry saw Elvis drop to one knee after he finished singing. He remembered that Elvis, having turned white as a ghost, looked up at Jerry and smiled. Both men knew they'd seen something great.

The song became the title track of the second gospel album released in February 1967. Sales were not great by Elvis standards but there was an early hint of the special relationship which Elvis would go on to have with the song: it won him his first Grammy award that year for Best Sacred Performance.

March 20th, 1974 was the final night of the 25 show tour of 15 different cities. Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis was released later that summer 1974 and sold over half a million copies initially, but the real news about the album was the standout track; another recording of How Great Thou Art!

The song brought Elvis his third and final Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance, but it is his last recording of the song that really stands out.

Just days before his death, this final version from 1977 is by far his most emotional recording of the song. He inserts the word ‘big’ before ‘world’, adds ‘I think you are’ when he mentions that God is great and he repeats ‘how great’ three times in the final chorus. It’s raw and it’s real and it’s a moment of worship which is irresistible for many in the audience.

Did he know time was running out? It’s impossible to say. But it’s clear that his relationship with the song was long, significant and – perhaps when he needed it most – a timely reminded him of the power, love and grace of our God who calls every one of us home.

With thanks to Trevor Simpson for background research. For more info visit http://elvisthebestofbritish.co.uk

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