The last month of 1954 saw the first female break into rock and roll big time --- LaVern Baker, with her smash, "Tweedle Dee." December ended in sadness however. Johnny Ace was a crooner who sounded like a Johnny Mathis with soul. His, "Pledging My Love," was released at the end of 1954. He had won various music business honors, including Billboard's Triple Crown Award and was fast becoming a rock idol. On Christmas eve of that year the audience waiting for him to appear on stage at City Auditorium in Houston heard a shot from backstage. Johnny Ace had lost a game of Russian Roulette and became the first rock and roll singer to die tragically. Soon after the death of Johnny Ace, Varetta Dillard recorded "Johnny Has Gone" for the Savoy label in early 1955. Incorporating many of Ace's song titles in the lyrics, this was the first of the many teen tragedy records that were to follow in the later 50s and early 1960s.
The Russian Communist movement had their propaganda films ("Potemkin" and "Ten Days That Shook the World"), the Nazi movement had their films ("Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia") and so, too, the rock and roll movement had its propaganda films ("Rock, Rock, Rock" and "Don't Knock the Rock"). Alan Freed made several of these. Basically, they projected the idea that the parent's generation had its music (the Charleston coupled with bootleg booze), which was felt to be wild and extreme in its day and the present teens have rock and roll. It's a natural evolution; it's not as bad as you make it and, mom and dad, we see you secretly tapping your foot. In this day of establishment rock and roll, it is difficult to remember the necessity for these films. Certain elements were out to kill the movement. After an initial outcry, Elvis was only shown on TV from the waist up. By 1958, he was shaved, shorn and shipped (to Germany) by the U. S. Army. In 1955, a bill was proposed to Congress which would ban rock and roll in the United States, the country of its birth.
We had to sneak rock and roll records into the house and sometimes listen to them when parents were not around. I'll never forget a girl classmate who whispered in my ear, "You listen to that rock and roll?" Not this artist or that artist, but the new thing; she wanted to know if I ever heard of that new movement in itself ---- Rock & Roll. It's still with us but, as with long hair, it just doesn't mean the same thing anymore.
Was there a government conspiracy to do away with rock and roll because of its threatening racial influence on white children?
In what ways did Barber Shop Quartet music influence rhythm and blues and, eventually, rock and roll? Were the blues entirely a black man's invention, or did it depend on some building blocks from 19th century Europe?
Find out how to find out in Speaking engagements and gigs.
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