Music historians have different opinions regarding the birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Some feel it started in the 1930s when African American country blues and hillbilly music merged and was performed by popular artists of that day. Others think it began in the late 1940s with the invention of the electric guitar by Leo Fender. They do agree, however, that this genre of music emerged from the southern United States. This region of the states was home to many early Rock ‘n’ Roll acts. What made Rock ‘n’ Roll a distinct genre was that mainly white teenagers were listening and dancing to music that was influenced by African music and dance styles. A popular dance move that was danced to African music and later to Rock ‘n’ Roll music was the jitterbug.
Parents felt panicked because their kids were listening to race music. During this time period, race was still discriminated. Children were listening to, “black” music which the parents felt uncomfortable with and was against the idea. Things such as deals were used by the adults to try to make their children stop listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll since it was considered to be race music but the children always declined anything the parents offered.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the background of the Rock ‘n’ Roll was found in a variety of styles. Jazz, blues, country and folk music were huge influences, as well as gospel songs. Not only was music changing, but instruments were advancing technologically. Amplifiers, electric guitars, microphones and record players were the perfect backdrop for the energy of these fast paced songs. It may be hard to pinpoint just one song that helped mainstream this style of music but most historians agree that Bill Haley and His Comets “Rock Around the Clock“, recorded in April 1954, was that breakthrough song.
This was an exciting time to be a musician. At the time, there were only five major record labels. As more artists and groups began to play this type of music, smaller record labels were formed and began signing these acts. Elvis Presley was signed by a radio personality named Sam Phillips who, in 1952, formed Sun Records. The record industry grew as disc jockeys, television personalities, movie executives and many others saw the opportunity to make money with this new style of music. It didn’t take long for rock and roll music to become popular with the 1950s youth.
The 1950s was a decade of musical change that contradicted the era’s societal behavior. Rock ‘n’ Roll music was rebellious, spontaneous and seemingly dangerous due to the lyrics, rhythms and the way people danced. Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, explained the relationship between dance and music quite simply. He commented, “Rock ‘n’ Roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it.” When he performed, he proved that by his smooth moves and swinging hips. He really seemed to”feel” the words he sang as well as the music played.
The famous swinging of the hips added some sexualization to this type of music. Parents were against Rock ‘n’ Roll early on because it was considered race music but now there was sexual context to the dance moves. Rock ‘n’ Roll might of as well caused most parents to have heart attacks. The term Rock ‘n’ Roll refers to sexual intercourse. If you listen and or read lyrics very carefully, you will see that the context of the songs are very inappropriate. Children loved the lyrics and enjoyed even more that their parents did not understand them. The power of being able to go against their parents wishes was a great thing to them. This is how Rock ‘n’ Roll started and helped the 1950s rebellious teenage era.
This decade saw the rise and evolution of rock and roll though the exact story of the this genre is hard to pin down. Its background of country music merging with Rhythm and Blues to create a sound both exhilarating and lasting, is an interesting story on its own. I think many of the artists from that era would have their own opinions probably depending on their own experiences. Wouldn’t it be great to hear their thoughts?
“Music Played in the 1950’s Popular Music From the 50s.” 1950’s Music Played in the 50’s Bands Groups Singers from The People History. Accessed April 14, 2015.
Peneny, DK. “The History of Rock and Roll.” The History of Rock and Roll. October 25, 2014. Accessed April 14, 2015.
“Rock And Roll Quotes.” BrainyQuote. Accessed April 15, 2015.
“Rock N Roll.” Rocknrollera.weebly. Accessed April 16, 2015.
“1950’s Music Decade Overview.” Rock Music Timeline. Accessed April 16, 2015.
Bailey (Published on 4/8/15; revised on 4/27/15)
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