This was the focal point of the May 1966 sessions, which were themselves an outgrowth of several months of jamming at home with his friends Red West and Charlie Hodge. The pop recordings released to date were only an indication of the level of aspiration of these sessions; the gospel sides were their realization. Elvis originally had had the idea of recording with the great African-American bass singer Jimmy Jones and his quartet but, after searching for him fruitlessly for some time put together an all-star backup group of eleven singers, including one of his all-time idols, Jake Hess. So proud was Elvis of having Hess on his album that he featured him on a number of songs, bringing his voice up in the mix to the point that he had to be brought back down again afterwards by agreement of RCA and Colonel Parker. Elvis’ own voice was fuller than even his most operatic performances; the musicians delivered strong, imaginative performances; and the vocal arrangements only served to emphasize the grandeur (some might say the grandiosity) of approach and tone. The overall effect was of a scope and breadth that stood in direct counterpoint to the relative simplicity of 1960’s His Hand In Mine. It was a big sound, with an extended reach, as Elvis’ virtuosic performance of “How Great Thou Art” became one of his best-loved and most-requested standards, and the album won him his first Grammy.