The Knowledge

The Blues was introduced to the American recording industry, in 1920, by Perry Bradford. 1 The music was marketed widely as Race Records. The word “Race”  identified printed catalog orders as recordings performed by “authentic Negro” artists. After three decades,  mass media had made the black confluence of blues, gospel and jazz  artists more acceptable and more 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 by radio;  and also faintly  touched the ears of the most hip white jukebox 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. Roy Bown's "Good Rockin' Tonight" is a classic example. So is Louis Jordan's "Let The Good Times Roll" or "Sixty Minute Man" by Billy Ward and His Dominos. Their Rhythm and Blues musical messages also spoke proudly to the aware non-members who told their other [white]friends. Black culture soothed its own youth and grabbed the rhythm of outside neophytes, enticing 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 already 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, and called it “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 white Americans. Nationally, the R&B 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 Alan Freed away from Cleveland. However, he was legally blocked from using his Rhythm and Blues radio show's “Moon Dog House” name, personal Moon Dog handle and theme song. Another “Moon Dog” already existed in New York.10  Freed renamed his New York City's  Rhythm and Blues music program, “The Alan Freed Rock and Roll Show” 11 and used the two music names synonymosly. 12 Freed also started a campaign to change the name of Rhythm and Blues music to Rock and Roll. 13 To bolster his movement, he crowned as "King of the Moondoggers" and renamed himself “The King of Rock and Roll.” 14 

As black culture exploded in the mid 1950s, an old blues song from the 1920s, “Rock Me All Night Long Daddy With A Steady Roll,” was rewritten with new lyrics by two white writers. They increased the blues tempo, dropped the "roll" and re-titled it, “Rock Around The Clock.” 15 Two separate recordings of the song by white artists flopped! Nontheless, Sonny Dae's effort was soulful. But, when the second recording by Bill Haley played on the 1955 “Blackboard Jungle” film’s soundtrack white youth went buck 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, economic and social, falsified reality and dared to claim Rock and Roll was white!

Alan Freed's renaming of his New York radio show in 1954 resulted in the  creation of an alternative name for Rhythm and Blues, called Rock and Roll. Although New York was one single local market it was the world 's entertainment capitol and influenced the entire nation and the world. As Alan "Rock and Roll" Freed presented live rhythm and blues shows throughout the New York area, and promoted them as Rock and Roll shows he raked in enormous box office receipts. The following year, 1955, the film "Blackboard Jungle", made the song, Rock Around The Clock, a number hit on the Billboard. Decca Records refocused its advertising and promotion of Bill Haley's record and called it a Rock and Roll song. In essence, Decca's promotion joined Alan Freed's campaign to change the name of Rhythm and Blues music Rock and Roll, of which Alan Freed was its King. 

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 Next,  Hollywood,  produced 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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