Elvis Presley was apparently Jewish, new evidence suggests

1 July 2021, 11:22 | Updated: 10 January 2024, 10:18

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

Elvis's great-great-grandmother was apparently a Jewish woman named Nancy Burdine.

It's long been said that Neil Diamond is the Jewish Elvis, but it turns out that the real Jewish Elvis may well have been... Elvis.

Yes, while Elvis Presley was brought up a godfearing Christian who attended a Pentecostal Assembly of God church, there had often been speculation about his roots.

Elvis was known to have donated to Jewish organisations, and was photographed wearing a Star of David necklace and another diamond studded chain with a pendant reading חי (chai – Hebrew for Life).

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When Gladys Love Presley died in 1958 aged just 46, her headstone was marked with a cross, not hinting at any sort of Jewish roots.

But Graceland’s long-time vice president of archives and exhibits Angie Marchese told the Jewish Telegraph Agency that six years later Elvis designed a new headstone that featured a cross on the right, but also a Star of David on the left.

Elvis Presley with his parents Vernon and Gladys
Elvis Presley with his parents Vernon and Gladys. Picture: Getty

Elvis's dad Vernon moved his son and wife's remains to Graceland after an attempt was made to steal Elvis's body, and the stone went into storage.

After four decades locked away, the grave marker is now on display at Graceland’s Meditation Garden, with a sign beside it stating "Gladys’ Jewish heritage".

"There was a lot of mystery surrounding it," Marchese said of the headstone. "The star is on it, so it answered a lot of questions that were out there.

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"We thought it would be a great way of honouring her Jewish heritage as well as honouring her. We think it’s what Elvis would have wanted."

So how did the Scots-Irish Gladys come to have Jewish roots?

Marchese believes Gladys's great grandmother was a Mississippi-born Jewish woman called Nancy Burdine, whose family moved to America from Eastern Europe in the late 1700s.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley. Picture: Cinedigm

According to Jewish tradition, the religion is passed down matrilineally by birth – so if your mother is Jewish, that makes you Jewish too, regardless of your personal beliefs or practices.

So if Nancy was Jewish, so was her great granddaughter, and so was Elvis.

Meanwhile, it was announced that The Elvis Presley Channel will launch in the US and Canada in early 2022, in partnership with Cinedigm.

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A free-to-air, ad-supported linear TV channel, it will broadcast specials and archive content about Elvis, like The ’68 Comeback Special, Elvis Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite and Elvis by the Presleys.

It will also feature music from other influential artists, like Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.

"There are few individuals more iconic than Elvis Presley, he transcends time, genre and medium," said President of Cinedigm Digital Networks Erick Opeka.

"The channel will allow a whole new audience to experience Elvis, while also giving his fans a more in-depth look at their idol."