Free The Rise Of Rock And Roll Essay Sample

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Music, White, Rhythm And Blues, Rhythm, America, Audience, Popularity, Artists

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/14

Music is known to be the universal language of mankind. It might seem a cliche, but the reality behind this quote is proven by the history of rhythm and blues. Made popular in the first few years after World War II ended, rhythm and blues became a successful tool that bridged the differences between black and white Americans brought about by race, class, or music.
According to Nelson George, rhythm and blues was more than just a form of music, but was also a reflection of the socioeconomic situation of the black Americans who fled from the fields of the South in hopes for a better life in the factories of the North (ii). In general, it was a result of the sythensis of black musical genres that included gospel, blues, big-band, and swing (George ii). With the advent of new technology, the electric bass became a crucial ingredient in the “propulsive and spirited” vibe that characterized the music.
Rhythm and blues was first heard in the American south, where the black American immigrants settled and formed a community. In essence, the music defined their aspiration to move forward by achieving equality and put a stop to racism (George xi). As a product of the black community, the music was at first confined to late-night radio playlists at the WLCA Nashville in 1946 (PBS/BBC) for black listeners. However, white kids were also drawn to the sound as it was something new to their ears. The confusion created by the sound pulled in more listeners, making the music known all over the country as it continued to be played by some radio stations.
Despite its growing popularity, the music remained anonymous due to the small audience that it was able to reach. In 1951, however, white disc jockeys started playing the music due to its undeniable immense popularity. Allan Free introduced it in Cleveland and gave it the name “rock and roll,” a black slang term that pertains to “sex,” (PBS/BBC). From then on, it started spreading around the country which put the small independent music labels to the spotlight. Taking advantage of its new-acclaimed fame, record labels moved to take rhythm and blues to a larger audience, a step known in music as “crossover.” Fat Domino from New Orleans became a sensation in 1950’s, selling millions of his albums and bringing rhythm and blues to a higher level. More artists, with the likes of Little Richard, continued to redefine rhythm and blues, continuously giving it a new vibe that had the listeners stomping and shaking and screaming with its liveliness, came about. Despite the popularity of the music, white Americans, were still reluctant to accept it.
Sam Phillips, a radio engineer from Alabama, paved the way for rhythm and blues to penetrate the white audience through the discovery of Elvis Presley. He grew up in a community of black and white Americans which resulted to his country and blues influence in music. As rock and roll started to explode in Memphis, Tennessee as a byproduct of the marriage between white and black energy, Elvis Presley invaded the homes of white audiences all over America.
Presley became an instant hit, snagging the hearts of young women and most audiences of varying ages. However, people were left confused about his identity due mainly to his musical vibe. They were left wondering if Presley was black or white, or whether his music was country or blues. When he moved to RCA records, a major record label who bid the highest for his contract, from Sam Phillips’ small Sun Records, he achieved phenomenal success that propelled him to popularity which extended to TV appearances and even movies. His first appearance sealed the deal and had him becoming the next big thing in music, a white man singing black music. In 1955, another notable black artist redefined music with his eccentric musical style and exceptional use of electric guitar. Bo Didley and his percussive sound became the rock and roll mainstays in the primetime program The Ed Sullivan Show (PBS/BBC).
The emergence of the new artist Chuck Berry made it possible for white teenage market to gravitate towards black music. With his unique guitar style, and his songs which talked about ordinary things in life such as school, cars, love, adolescent concerns and desires, and this attracted more white teenagers. Just as it started reaching a wider market, white people, mostly those who were not really exposed to the music, started criticizing it, labeling it as obscene and vulgar, and a tool that taught whites to love black people (PBS/BBC). Even Ed Sullivan of The Ed Sullivan Show was adamant not to have Elvis Presley in his show despite his growing popularity. However, his move to RCA Music had him taming his songs in order to reach the mainstream market. Gone was his original style, defined by the raw vitality that he possessed and displayed when he was still at Sun Records, to be replaced by a more contained delivery (PBS/BBC).
The evolution of black music, both the rhythm and blues and rock and roll that evolved from it, was spurred by the artists’ desire to have it recognized by both black and white audience. This was consistent with the original aspiration of the black immigrants from the South as they looked forward to moving on from the difficult life they had to suffer. Record labels, on the other hand, were after it for money. Major record labels grabbed the opportunity to earn more from the imminent popularity that was to be achieved by black music. the music was something new they were at constant hunt for artists that had something fresh to offer. Despite the huge difference in the reasoning, black music achieved part of what it sought to get, recognition and acceptance. However, for George, this happened with the black people sacrificing their diversity and uniqueness.
George described “crossover” as the main culprit for the perasive new version of the original black music, calling it a “recycled” version of what the blacks created (p. 106). For George, it signified the death of the era of the black community as its music continued to undergo change to be able to get by the fast changing times. With the idea of “crosover” and integration, the goal for the music to be accepted by whites, the blacks failed to achieve self-sufficiency which would have given them a stronger base to work for integration and practical power (George p. 201). The force that propelled the black Americans to work on being integrated to the community of the whites was the exact same force that caused its failure. Music would have done it for them, but in the end, it led them to lose the identity that they were trying to promote.
As more white Americans became more critical of black music, black artists also met their downfall. Some of them were involved in several scandals that jeopardized their careers, such as Chuck Berry who was heavily criticized when news of his marriage with her 13-year old cousin came out, while the new ones met accidents even before their popularity struck. Elvis
Presley, on the other hand, signed up with the military which took him out of the music scene. Several disc jockeys who once held the power in spreading the popularity of the music got involved in payola cases which ended their career. Although people’s opinion are varied about the issue of payola, which is described as the practice of major record companies paying the deejays to play their artists’ songs, this issue mired the reputation of radio disc jockeys. George believed that “crossover” decimated rhythm and blues and stripped it with its sense of black heritage. True to his observation, rhythm and blues died and ended the era for the black community in the 1960’s, but evetually got revived into what it is today, a continuously evolving musical genre that represents the rich and unique culture of the black people of the past. It may not have been successful in giving the black Americans before of the equality that they wanted, but it has certainly gone a long way in achieving it today.

Works Cited

George, Nelson. The Death of Rhythm and Blues. New York: Penguin Books, 1988. Print.
PBS/BBC. Rock’n Roll Renegades: A Documentary. Youtube. Web. 14 February 2015.

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