“Listen to his voice, ladies and gentlemen”
Nielsen first performed with Elvis as a member of the Imperials gospel group on the 1966 album How Great Thou Art. He left the Imperials shortly thereafter, but returned to the Elvis world in 1973 as a member of a new group, Voice. Voice provided backup singing in concert and in the studio, including work on 1975’s Elvis Today album.
Nielsen features prominently on two live recordings released shortly after Elvis’ death. On the 1977 album Elvis In Concert, which compiled songs from two stops on his final tour, Elvis introduces Nielsen and asks him to sing “O Sole Mio” – the original Italian version of “It’s Now Or Never.” As Nielsen sings solo during the June 21, 1977, performance in Rapid City, South Dakota, Elvis playfully gibes him as a “smart aleck” while hitting the high notes. Elvis soon takes over to do a solid version of “It’s Now Or Never.”
In February 1978, six months after Elvis’ death, RCA released a single from that same concert – a haunting version of “Unchained Melody,” with piano accompaniment by Elvis himself. The flip side of that 45 RPM record was “Softly, As I Leave You,” which includes almost no singing by Elvis. Instead, in this December 13, 1975, recording from a Las Vegas concert, Elvis tells a fictional story about a dying man composing the song as a final letter to his wife. As Elvis delivers the dramatic tale and speaks the lyrics of the song, Nielsen provides the nearly operatic vocals.
They close in harmony together on the final line, “I will leave you there.”
My condolences go out to Nielsen’s family and friends.
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Research Source: Elvis Presley: A Life In Music – The Complete Recording Sessions by Ernst Jorgensen, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1998.