Heart and Soul: A Celebration of African American Music


Rock and Roll


Rock music is one of the world's most popular and adaptable musical forms. When it originated in the United States in the early 1950's, rock music was known as rock 'n' roll (also spelled rock and roll). From the start, it was party music, dance music, and music that appealed to young listeners. It often celebrated the joys of being young, and it occasionally expressed the frustrations of youth.


Many adults dismissed rock 'n' roll as a passing fad or condemned it as a threat to society. By the mid-1960's, however, rock 'n' roll had earned wide respect as a legitimate art form. The music's popularity spread internationally and among older listeners as well. By the end of the 1960's, the music had moved far from its roots in blues and country music, and it became known simply as rock.


In the 1970's, rock became a bigger business than ever. It not only dominated the music industry, but also influenced everything from film to fashion to politics. As rock music became increasingly accepted, it lost much of the rebelliousness that had originally given it its power.


Since the early 1980's, rock music has continued to defy musical barriers and has drawn much of its strength from international musical influences. Today, rock music is no longer only the music of young Americans. It is music of the world.


Musical roots


Rock developed from a variety of different popular music styles. The roots of rock can be heard in the lyrics and electric guitar of the blues, in the rhythms of a form of blues known as rhythm and blues, and in the spirit of American country music. The squawking saxophone of dance-band jazz, and the melodies, choruses, and harmonies of popular (pop) music also added to the rock sound.


The emergence of rock 'n' roll

Before rock 'n' roll became a musical category, such rhythm and blues hits as "Rocket '88" (1951) by Jackie Brenston had the spirit of rock 'n' roll. This and other similar records became increasingly popular with both black rhythm and blues audiences and white country music audiences.


The major rock 'n' roll explosion began with Elvis Presley. Although he was white, he had the style commonly associated with increasingly popular black music. The popularity of his black sound combined with his hip-shaking live performances and frequent radio play quickly made Presley a superstar. His first major success came with his 1956 recording of "Heartbreak Hotel" for RCA Victor.


Another important influence on rock music was St. Louis blues artist Chuck Berry. He was the first of the great rock songwriters. His lyrics effectively expressed the feelings and problems of youth. Berry's first hit record was a country-styled tune titled "Maybellene" (1955). Berry was a major influence on later rock performers, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Richard Penniman, known as Little Richard, helped influence rock performance styles. His vigorous and flamboyant stage performances provided a model for performers who followed. His first major success came in 1955 with "Tutti Frutti."


Though the United States was racially divided, some people sensed a spirit of racial equality in rock 'n' roll. It featured black artists, such as Chuck Berry, who were influenced by white country music. It also presented white artists, such as Presley and songwriter-guitarist Buddy Holly, who adopted styles based on black rhythm and blues. In earlier times, the recordings of such Southern black artists as Bo Diddley and Fats Domino would have been categorized as "race records" and sold primarily to black customers. With the rise of rock 'n' roll, these artists appealed to black and white audiences alike.


This article is from The World Book Encyclopedia.

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