America Rocks and Rolls [] (2024)

America Rocks and Rolls [] (1)

America Rocks and Rolls [] (2)
The prosperity of the '50s allowed teenagers to spend money on records by their favorite bands and singers.

Rock and roll was everything the suburban 1950s were not. While parents of the decade were listening to Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and big bands, their children were moving to a new beat.

In fact, to the horror of the older generation, their children were twisting, thrusting, bumping, and grinding to the sounds of rock and roll.

This generation of youth was much larger than any in recent memory, and the prosperity of the era gave them money to spend on records and phonographs. By the end of the decade, the phenomenon of rock and roll helped define the difference between youth and adulthood.

The Roots of Rock

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Alan Freed, the Cleveland disc jockey credited with coining the phrase "rock and roll," was the master of ceremonies at many of the first rock concerts, including his 1955 Easter Jubilee.

The roots of rock and roll lay in African American blues and gospel. As the Great Migration brought many African Americans to the cities of the north, the sounds of rhythm and blues attracted suburban teens. Due to segregation and racist attitudes, however, none of the greatest artists of the genre could get much airplay.

Disc jockey Alan Freed began a rhythm-and-blues show on a Cleveland radio station. Soon the audience grew and grew, and Freed coined the term "rock and roll."

Early attempts by white artists to cover R&B songs resulted in weaker renditions that bled the heart and soul out of the originals. Record producers saw the market potential and began to search for a white artist who could capture the African American sound.

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Chuck Berry's songs about girls and cars hit a nerve with American teens and sent his star rising high in the early days of rock and roll.

Sam Phillips, a Memphis record producer, found the answer in Elvis Presley. With a deep Southern sound, pouty lips, and gyrating hips, Elvis took an old style and made it his own.

From Memphis, the sound spread to other cities, and demand for Elvis records skyrocketed. Within two years, Elvis was the most popular name in the entertainment business.

After the door to rock and roll acceptance was opened, African American performers such as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Little Richard began to enjoy broad success, as well. White performers such as Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis also found artistic freedom and commercial success.

Satan's Music

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Elvis Presley brought rock-and-roll music to the masses during the 1950s with hits such as "Love Me Tender" and "Heartbreak Hotel."

Rock and roll sent shockwaves across America. A generation of young teenagers collectively rebelled against the music their parents loved. In general, the older generation loathed rock and roll. Appalled by the new styles of dance the movement evoked, churches proclaimed it Satan's music.

Because rock and roll originated among the lower classes and a segregated ethnic group, many middle-class whites thought it was tasteless. Rock and roll records were banned from many radio stations and hundreds of schools.

But the masses spoke louder. When Elvis appeared on TV's The Ed Sullivan Show, the show's ratings soared.

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Rock and roll is the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression — lewd, sly, in plain fact, dirty — a rancid-smelling aphrodisiac and the martial music of every side-burned delinquent on the face of the earth.

– Frank Sinatra (1957)

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The commercial possibilities were limitless. As a generation of young adults finished military service, bought houses in suburbia, and longed for stability and conformity, their children seemed to take comfort for granted. They wanted to release the tensions that bubbled beneath the smooth surface of postwar America.

Above all, they wanted to shake, rattle, and roll.

America Rocks and Rolls [] (2024)


What was the controversy with rock and roll? ›

Because rock and roll originated among the lower classes and a segregated ethnic group, many middle-class whites thought it was tasteless. Rock and roll records were banned from many radio stations and hundreds of schools. But the masses spoke louder.

What is the significance of rock and roll in US history? ›

It made an important impact on America and the world by inspiring and contributing to social and cultural change. Rock signified rebellion and young people's rejection of their parents' music, attitudes, and expectations. It also offered a bridge between races, classes, religions, and cultures.

Why was rock and roll a source of controversy in the 1950s? ›

One of the moral panics associated with the first wave of rock 'n' roll was the fear of race mixing - that young black and white kids would get together over this music that had a rhythmic, primitive, sensuous beat.

What were the three most important influences on 1950s rock and roll? ›

Particularly significant influences were jazz, blues, gospel, country, and folk. Commentators differ in their views of which of these forms were most important and the degree to which the new music was a re-branding of African-American rhythm and blues for a white market, or a new hybrid of black and white forms.

Why was Rock and Roll Part 2 banned? ›

It was also in North America that "Rock and Roll Part 2" became popularly associated with sports, as a number of professional teams began to play the song during games to invigorate the audience. Since Glitter's convictions for child sex offences, the song's continued use has been controversial.

Why did people hate rock and roll in the 50s? ›

One of the main complaints of parents had to do with the sexual nature of rock In' roll lyrics and of some of its performers. They feared that the lyrics of songs like Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis would inspire the destruction of sexual morals and abstinence.

Why did parents hate rock and roll? ›

Cultural historian Charles Panati says that to some parents the music of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley was disturbing, frenzied and sexual. Parents and clergy believed that rock 'n' roll was the cause of the nation's social ills and youthful rebellion.

Who was the first rock and roll superstar? ›

Some of the early Rock and Roll artists were Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, and Bill Haley and the Comets. The first number-one single of Rock and Roll was "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets.

What caused the downfall of rock and roll? ›

By the '80s, music had gone from albums to eight tracks, tape and CDs and soon after the dramatic rejection of Disco, as rock and roll was continuing to splinter into even more cultural sub-generes, MTV arrived. It was with MTV that it argued the acceleration of Rock and Roll's eventual demise began.

What city is considered the birthplace of rock and roll? ›

Many claim that the defining moment that makes Cleveland “the birthplace” of rock started back in the early 1950s, with help from radio disc jockey Alan Freed. His radio show on WJW in Cleveland was gaining popularity because of the kind of music he was playing for his mostly white audience.

Who was the most famous singer in the 50s? ›

Elvis Presley, who began his career in the mid-1950s, was the most successful artist of the popular sound of the Rock and Roll Era, with a series of network television appearances, motion pictures, and chart-topping records. Elvis also brought rock and roll widely into the mainstream of popular culture.

Who had the greatest impact on rock and roll? ›

It can be argued that Elvis Presley had the greatest impact on rock and roll, transforming it into a global phenomenon with his charismatic performances and unique vocal style.

What made rock and roll so controversial at the time? ›

The rock and roll lifestyle was popularly associated with sex and drugs. Many of rock and roll's early stars (as well as their jazz and blues counterparts) were known as hard-drinking, hard-living characters.

Why was rock and roll criticized? ›

Many saw rock music as a sign of cultural and moral decline, and some even believed to hear hidden satanic messages in its lyrics. But, even as fundamentalist preachers waged war against Rock & Roll, the young generation was raising rock music to a new religion.

Why did most parents disapprove of rock n roll? ›

Parents fought with their teenagers about the music which threatened every part of the older, conservative generation. They said the male singers sounded immature and their exhaling grunts were offensive. Some despised everything about the music -- the chaotic rhythm, its howling and screaming.

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