The Knowledge

The Blues was introduced to the American recording industry, in 1920, by Perry Bradford. 1 It was marketed widely as Race Music. “Race” identified mail-ordered records as “authentic Negro” artists. After three decades,  mass media had made the black confluence of blues, gospel and jazz  artists more acceptable and easily identifiable. Authenic black music over-rode many white segregationist laws. In 1949, Race Music, exploding in popularity throughout America, was renamed Rhythm and Blues by Billboard magazine… and it was rocking! 2 

At first the distant sounds of Rhythm and Blues gently pierced white America’s consciousness, like a soft drum beat heard late in the night. The music’s rocking 2/4 beat traveled over great distances and faintly  touched the ears of the most hip white jukebox and radio listeners. 3 Legends such as Rosetta Tharpe, Louis Jordan, Jack McVey, Ruth Brown, Muddy Waters, The Chords and others were spreading coded messages of excellence to their own African culture. Their messages also spoke proudly to the aware non-members who told their friends. Black culture grabbed the neophytes and enticed them dance to the music. To many white adults the songs sounded funny, and they predicted the strange music would become just another fad. 4

In 1950, nearly 500 black disc jockeys were broadcasting Rhythm and Blues nationwide, and white DJs had embraced the culture. 5 In Cleveland, Ohio the popularity of a black Rhythm and Blues disc jockey, Bill Hawkins, helped convert a white Classical Music DJ over to Rhythm and Blues music. 6 The white disc jockey, Alan Freed, already familiar with black culture, created his Rhythm and Blues program, called “The Moon Dog House.” He often recited back to his audience a recurring phrase found in Rhythm and Blues song lyrics, “…let’s rock and roll.” 7 By 1954, Rhythm and Blues had sunk deep into the very souls of more young Americans. Nationally, the music captured (57) fifty-seven percent of the hits on the white pop music charts. 8  In New York City, twelve black DJs were broadcasting Rhythm and Blues. 9 In mid 1954, the music was so popular that New York’s WINS radio station, hired Freed from Cleveland. However, he was legally blocked from using his Rhythm and Blues “Moon Dog House” concept names. Another “Moon Dog” already existed in New York.10  Freed renamed his Rhythm and Blues music program, “The Alan Freed Rock and Roll Show” 11 and used the two music names synonymosly. 12 A campaign ensued to change the name of Rhythm and Blues music to Rock and Roll. 13 To bolster his movement, he crowned himself “The King of Rock and Roll.” 14 

As black culture exploded in the mid 1950s, a blues song from the 1920s, “Rock Me All Night Long Daddy With A Steady Roll,” was rewritten in sytle and lyrics by two white writers. They increased the blues tempo and re-titled it, “Rock Around The Clock.” 15 Two separate recordings of the song by white artists flopped! But, when the second version by Bill Haley played on the 1955 “Blackboard Jungle” film’s soundtrack white youth went wild. Decca Records, influenced by Freed’s “rock and roll” campaign, branded Haley’s record as “Rock and Roll.” 16 Young whites could not get enough of the Rhythm and Blues hit! They just rocked and spun about face. Uncontrollably drawn to the music’s mysterious black hypnotic magnetism they converted permanently to Africanism. Many white parents protested the negro music; calling it vulgar, barren, and animalistic. 17 But it was too late -- there were no ships sailing for Africa! So, powerful forces falsified reality. 

The first rock film, 1956, “Rock Around The Clock” portrayed white country musicians as sole creators of rock music. 18 Alan Freed conslulted on the film. 19  Billboard reported, illogically, that Rock and Roll had separated from black music. Finally in 1958, Alan Freed himself disavowed Rock and Roll as black culture. 20 Seven years later Freed died broken, alcoholic and penniless.* Elvis Presley ascended, King of Rock and Roll. 21

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