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Mormon 'Bishop Elvis' keeps the spirit of the King of Rock 'n' Roll alive

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 21 2014 7:00 a.m. MST

Ken Graham, a Mormon bishop, also performs part time as an Elvis Presley tribute artist.

Provided by Ken Graham

The holidays were a busy time for Ken Graham, a newly called bishop of the Raytown Ward in the Independence Missouri Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Along with his new calling, Bishop Graham manages a full-time job at a local bank and is a father to seven children — five girls and two boys.

And then there's his side gig as an Elvis Presley tribute artist.

“Music was always around when I was growing up,” said Graham, who was third in a household of five young kids. “It was just kind of part of the family."

Graham and his siblings, who took after their parents, loved to sing and often participated in church choirs and local events.

Growing up, Graham loved several different genres, but he remembers developing a love for Elvis at a young age thanks to several Presley records his mother kept around the house.

"She was probably my greatest inspiration growing up," Graham recalled. "She had a beautiful singing voice."

Graham's interest in music developed into something more in 2004, when he decided to participate in a local talent show at the insistence of some acquaintances who were familiar with his musical talent. Graham selected a couple of Elvis classics and performed at the show.

Afterward, several people mentioned that he sounded a lot like Elvis. Graham decided to take those comments and run with them, eventually obtaining a couple of jumpsuits, including some that had been handmade by his mother, and actively looking for new places to perform.

In the past decade, Graham has performed at birthday parties, weddings, anniversaries, small shows at community centers and several competitions. One particular contest will always stand out in his mind. Graham won an Idaho competition in 2007 that awarded him a free trip for two to Graceland, Presley’s famous Tennessee home.

“That was a really neat experience to go through Graceland and see it firsthand," he said.

Graham called his Elvis tributes “a hobby, more than anything else,” though he wouldn't mind if it became a full-time job someday. The hobby has been a mutually beneficial one for him, his family and audiences.

“A lot of people still love Elvis as much as they did when he was alive,” Graham said. “To be able to keep that memory and legacy of Elvis alive and to see the reaction from people is probably the most rewarding part of it.”

Graham's daughters have had the opportunity to perform as a pre-show for some of his events. “Music seems to be a big part of our family," he said. "Every generation seems to carry that on.”

Since he accepted his current calling, members of the Raytown Ward have given him a new nickname — “Bishop Elvis.”

“That’s kind of like a second name to me now,” joked Graham, who performed as the grand finale of a recent talent show hosted by the Mormon ward.

It has been a little challenging for Graham to balance his Elvis tributes with his LDS Church calling, but he makes sure to keep his priorities straight.

“My faith is definitely a big priority in my life," he said. "It’s first and foremost. I give thanks to God. He’s the one that I rely on for all of my blessings, and I acknowledge his hand, as far as the talents I have.”

Activity in the LDS Church has also helped him cope with the loss of his mother, who died unexpectedly in 2013. "Because of my faith in the Lord, I have been able to get through the hard times, knowing that she is in a better place and is resting with the Lord," Graham said. "She oftentimes couldn't make it to my performances, but I know that I can still feel her presence in my life even greater and I know that she will never miss one of my shows again as she is looking down from heaven."

Graham carries on his mother's legacy in his own home by making music — including church music — a large part of his own family.

“Religious music has definitely played a big part in strengthening my testimony," he said. "We constantly try to sing the hymns of the church as often as we can, and we have those playing in our home to create a good atmosphere.”

Whether on stage in his full Elvis costume or in a suit at the chapel on Sunday, Graham is thankful to have an opportunity to share his gifts.

“I count myself blessed to be able to have this talent, to share it with others, to enrich their lives, and to keep doing it as long as I can," he said.

Graham’s website is at kengrahamelvis.webs.com.

Email: achristensen@deseretnews.com

Twitter: atownmania

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