History of Rock and Roll 1950s
Copyright 1996 Harry Hepcat
Bust of Harry HepcatHISTORY OF ROCK & ROLL, PART I

by: Harry Hepcat
It seems incredible, going into the 21st century, that rock and roll has been with us as a major force since 1954. Sure, Richard Whiting, in addition to writing songs like, "Hoooray for Hollywood" and "Ain't We Got Fun," penned one called, "Rock and Roll," in 1934. Blues shouters of the 1940's used the word "rock" (and sometimes "roll") as being synonymous with intercourse. That was nothing new as bop, swing and jazz, when used as verbs, meant the same thing. It wasn't until the fifties, though, that music started to really rock and roll!
Disc Jockey, Alan Freed, began playing some of the more commercial sounding black "rhythm and blues" songs (called, "race records" for most of this century) and he played them for white teenagers over radio station WJW in Cleveland. In order to expand his audience to include whites, Freed astutely applied the old term, "rock and roll," to now mean this music with the raw, heavy back beat. In July of 1951, Floyd Warner Associates in Chicago claimed in a press release that the Dominoes ("Sixty Minute Man") were "the greatest Rock and Roll performers in the world."

Federal RecordsAlso, in 1951, a country hillbilly magazine named, "Hillbilly Stars," claimed that, Clyde Warner, "can really rock and roll on his guitar." In October of that year, Johnny Ray, a white man, recorded, "Cry," a wailing ballad that approached the rock and roll sound. The record label called it, "rhythm and blues," and it became the top selling record of the following year.

On March 21, 1952, the first rock and roll concert took place at the Cleveland Arena. Of course, this first show caused a riot as Alan Freed and 30,000 people packed a building that could seat only 10,000. 15,000 more fans waited on the streets. 1952 also saw Bill Haley become the first white man to intercept this formerly all-black musical idiom with his record called, "Rock the Joint." Out on the West Coast, Lloyd Price recorded his rock sounding hit, "Lawdy, Miss Claudy." Four years before Alan Freed's motion picture, "Rock, Rock, Rock," Amos Milburn recorded a song with the same title (1952).

Essex RecordsSome classic early rock and roll was released in the year 1953. Your local record store could order, on either 45 or 78 rpm, "Crying in the Chapel," by Sonny Til and the Orioles, "Gee," by the Crows and "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight," by the Spaniels. Most importantly, Bill Haley and his Comets made it to the national charts with their record, "Crazy Man Crazy".

The year 1954 was a big one for rock and roll. The music (and the movement) went from being almost an underground thing to national prominence. In March of that year, the original version of, "Sh-Boom," by the Chords was released. A cover version * by a white group, the Crew Cuts, made number one in America. In May, Atlantic Records released the rock and roll classic, "Shake Rattle and Roll," by Joe Turner. Bill Haley released his version of the song in June and in October had a smash hit with "Dim, Dim the Lights." By June, teens were making out to, "Gloria," by the Cadillacs.

In July of 1954, Bill Haley and his Comets recorded a song written by a 63 year old Tin Pan Alley composer and his partner.

Who Were they and what song did they write?

HINT: This song, more than any other, would be credited by some as being the "FIRST" rock and roll record. The song was used as the theme for two movies: Blackboard Jungle (1955) and American Graffiti (1973). Some even claimed it was responsible for a new wave of "juvenile delequency."

Find out in Part II of the History of Rock and Roll

    * - Denotes where you can click in the above text to get a definition.

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