— VANESSA —
“I just all of a sudden became an Elvis fan six or seven months before the actual festival. My parents were like, ‘Oh, well she’s really getting this Elvis kick. So let’s just go to this Penticton Elvis festival.’ My mom heard about it from a woman—she was at a store, and she was telling her about it. So, we went to this festival. All of us meeting at the same time. We were all like one big family right away. Sunday at the finals, my step-dad and my mom went to go out and get a drink and I’m waiting, holding the seats. Forty-five minutes later they come back and I’m like, ‘What were you doing?’
And they were like, ‘Oh! Well, you know, we were talking to Ben’s parents.’
And I was like, ‘Oh! Goodness.’
He was talking to them about religion and stuff like that as well. For the summer, my parents decided that this one random place that we would go to would be Spokane, Washington— where Ben lived. So after the Penticton Elvis Festival in August, we were going to drive to Spokane and stay at one of these RV parks in Spokane for a week, which is the random thing. Because it’s like out of all the places, ‘let’s go to Spokane.’ It was just so weird.
After the Penticton Elvis Festival when I met Ben in 2005, there was a gospel show every Sunday, and he sang a couple gospel songs that I really liked. After the weekend had finished, I purchased a gospel CD and just listened to that all the time. And I loved his gospel music. He [Ben] definitely had a different sound when he sang it. You hear stories from Elvis’s entourage how after the shows they’d go up to the hotel room or wherever they were and sit around a piano and just sing gospel music for hours.”
— BEN —
“I’m so thankful for the talents and abilities He’s given me to use for Him. I sometimes wonder ‘Why Elvis? Why this?’ I wonder it all the time. And there’s been a lot of times where I say, ‘Lord, I’m laying the thing down. I’m just going to stop doing it if You want me to.’ And every time I’ve said this, I’ve had a success. God’s always kept me humble. Because…it’s not about me, it’s about Him working through me, giving me the talents and abilities to bless other people through it. It’s funny, it doesn’t have to be a gospel song that can touch someone’s life. If you sing ‘Love Me Tender’ and it reminds them of a time when their husband was alive or their wife was alive, when things were good in their life…if you can take them back for five minutes, or ten minutes, or whatever…so they don’t have problems, you’ve done a good deed for someone. You’ve used what God has given you to bless that person. You don’t always have to force God down someone’s throat. They can see that through your life, through your being. That’s the whole thing about it. I just want to be used by God.”
I travelled to British Colombia at the invitation of my friend Su Black to interview people who are First Nations (Native North Americans in Canada) for Portraits in Faith. Little did I know that not only would I meet people from First Nations, but I would also go to the Penticton Elvis Festival and meet an award-winning Elvis tribute artist, Ben Klein, and his wife, Vanessa.
I said to Su that I wanted to “interview an Elvis,” and she asked, “How will you know which one to interview?” so I replied, “I’ll just know!”
Sure enough, the last singer on Saturday night said, “Y’all be sure to come to the Sunday morning Elvis gospel concert! You’ll be blessed if you do!” And I knew that Ben was my man!
So I went to the tent next to the stage and introduced myself to Ben. He was elated to share with me that he was a born-again Christian and that his father was a pastor and an Elvis tribute artist also. We made arrangements for me to interview Ben and his wife Vanessa (they met at the Penticton Elvis Festival and they share a deep connection to Elvis’s gospel music).
Vanessa and Ben taught me about the role of gospel music in Elvis’s life. Apparently, Elvis would stay up all hours of the night after his shows and sing gospel with the backup singers (gospel quartets). And that this was where he felt most at home. I love to reflect on how “The King of Rock & Roll” devoted an important part of his career to spiritual music. In fact, Elvis won three Grammys and all were for gospel music (a studio and a live version of “How Great Thou Art,” and, “He Touched Me”).
I have also been moved by Ben’s reflection on “Why Elvis?” as a focus of his life. And I love his explanation that singing like Elvis can bring back a loving moment, a sacred memory if you will, for his audience. It reminds me that all of life is sacred, and the many ways of being there for each other.
My understanding of Ben’s mission in doing this performance work, and in understanding Vanessa’s and Ben’s spiritual journeys, touched me greatly. It taught me once again that each person’s ministry looks different but has the same objectives—to heal and to share hope.