America Rocks and Rolls

Rock and Roll was everything the suburban 1950s were not. While parents were listening to Frank Sinatra and Big Bands, their children were moving to a new beat, twisting and grinding to the sounds of rock and roll.

This generation of youth was much larger than any other, and the general prosperity meant they had money to spend on records. By the end of the decade, the phenomenon of rock and roll helped define the difference between youth and adulthood.

The Roots of Rock

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 (R&B) attracted white suburban teens.

Segregation and racist attitudes prevented the greatest rhythm and blues musicians from being played on the radio. Disc jockey Alan Freed began a rhythm-and-blues show on a Cleveland radio station and he coined the term "rock and roll."

Record producers saw the market potential and began to search for a white artist who could capture the African American sound. Sam Philips, a Memphis record producer, found the answer in Elvis Presley, who made an old style his own. Within two years, Elvis was the most popular name in the entertainment business.

African American performers such as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Little Richard became successful, as well. White performers such as Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis also found artistic freedom and commercial success.

Satan's Music

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 that accompanied the music, churches proclaimed it “Satan's music.”

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

The commercial possibilities were limitless. The baby boomers had grown up with prosperity and were able 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.

Source: America Rocks and Rolls
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