It's an act with a built-in joke: A black man imitating a white man who imitated black men to get famous. And the joke isn't lost on Clarence Giddens, a Melfa, Va., man who's known professionally as Black Elvis.
"It started as a joke," he says in the soft accent of coastal Virginia. "Everybody would imitate Elvis -- it started from there."
Mr. Giddens, who says his musical influences were Elvis, country and gospel music, realized about four years ago that the joke might amount to something. First came bookings in Virginia Beach, Va. Then a story in Spin magazine put Black Elvis in front of a national audience.
"About four years ago, I got serious about it," he recalls. "I started with a New Jersey band called The Flaming Caucasians. . . . I've been playing with everybody in the world!"
Tonight he'll be onstage at the Avalon Theater in Easton as part of the ensemble cast of "Radio From Downtown," a two-hour variety program created and produced by Salisbury resident Van Williamson.
"I'm excited about it," says Mr. Giddens, who adds that he's had more work in television than radio.
His TV stints have included portraying Black Elvis in a future episode of "Homicide: Life on the Street" and an appearance on Arsenio Hall's show, as well as some work for a British TV program.
He also has toured as Black Elvis and appeared in the movie "Honeymoon in Vegas."
His devotion to Elvis began when he first saw him on television, says Mr. Giddens, who is 37.
"When I was in middle school, James Brown was my idol," he says. Then he saw the King, and that was it. "I never seen a white boy do the things he did!"
HEAR BLACK ELVIS
To hear an excerpt of Black Elvis, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6209. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.