Emerging in the 1950s was a new form of music called rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ’n’ roll was characterized by a heavy beat that came about through the combination of rhythm and blues, country music, and gospel music. Revolutionized by familiar artists such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles, this new genre had a lasting effect on crucial social issues of the 50s. Rock ’n’ roll created a significant impact in that it “was credited with and criticized for promoting integration for blacks”(Altschuler 35).
How did rock ’n’ roll create a lasting effect on the music world? Well the new sound and rhythm that made up the recently developed style of music accompanied by the performances of the artists themselves, yielded an audience that was practically hypnotized(Birnbaum 16). The sexuality expressed through the dancing that was brought about by this new genre sent the nations’ youth into a dance craze. Elvis Presley, for example, would swing and gyrate his hips when he performed. Though this was seen as immoral to most of the older generations, the youth instantly fell in love and before anyone knew it, the craze had taken over. When a rock ’n’ roll artist would perform, the whole crowd would be dancing in this new, unethical, fashion. This later lead to artist such as the Beatles and continued to evolve until rock ’n’ roll turned in to what we know today as rock music.
But what does this have to do with integration? Remember that during this time, segregation was still enforced. Therefore, ropes were put up in order to segregate the white audience from the black audience. Herb Reed, of a band called The Platters, recalled such a rope in his audience and recounted that once the music began, “the kids broke the rope and started dancing together. That rock ’n’ roll beat gets them all”(Altschuler 35). Some rock ’n’ roll artists also actively sought to play a role in this integration process. One example of this would be when Larry Williams was arrested after he “‘took off his shirt and leaped off the stage—and across the color line— to dance with his white fans’”(Altschuler 40). This act of coming together through a certain bond really moved wonders for the integration movement as well as artists speaking out or acting out in ways that showed their support for integration.
Below is a video that demonstrates Elvis Presley’s “immoral” dance moves. The video also shows his crazed younger fans in sharp contrast with their unamused parents in the back.
Altschuler, Glenn C. All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.
Birnbaum, Larry. Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2013. Print.
“Elvis Presley – Hound Dog – Tupelo Goldsuit 1957.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.