The popularity of swing dancing in the 40s and 50s, the evolution of rhythm and blues music, and the invention of the electric guitar gave birth to rock and roll. The events that led to those early days can be found stomping around in a few of the following yards of the American musical neighborhood.
Gospel music’s roots are in the call and response style used in Southern churches in the early 1900s.
Henry “Red” Allen was the first popular gospel performer. He released “Get Rhythm in Your Feet and Music in Your Soul” in 1935, later covered by jazz great Benny Goodman. In 1936, Billboard columnist Maurie Orodenker described Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s vocals on “Rock Me” as “rock-and-roll spiritual singing”.
As gospel artists increasingly took on R&B offerings, these were lambasted by church officials as secular music, too charged with sex.
Love of dance was a big factor in rock’s appearance, and in the 40s, you danced to swing. Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, among others, were essential in creating swing music, which is pretty much jumped-up jazz. Swing was followed by jump blues in the late 40s and popularized by Louis Jordan’s “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”.
Western music developed its own swing music in these years, with musicians such as Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills combining blues, swing, and country music for honky tonks and clubs.
Rhythm and Blues
Rhythm and blues music came from the blues, which arose from field hollers and spirituals of the south.
In 1920, Mamie Smith’s hit Crazy Blues was followed by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads in 1937, popularizing the sound of guitar in blues music.
The late ’40s brought Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and Erline “Rock And Roll” Harris’ “Rock And Roll Blues”. Producers started to actively search for and create songs with that rock and roll sound.
1951 is the year rock and roll was born as Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” debuted. Cleveland deejay Alan Freed’s “Moondog Rock And Roll Party” broadcasted R&B music. Bill Haley and the Comets formed in 1952, and the tv show Bandstand went on the air. Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard shows were shaking things up while Sam Phillips recorded Elvis’ first tune. With the release of “Maybelline” Chuck Berry made the guitar the focal point of rock and roll in 1955.
From 1955 to 1959, the US music market jumped from 200 to 600 million dollars, and rock and roll’s share increased from 15% to 43%. Producers looking for guitar-based rock talent found the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles.
Rock and roll was here to stay.