Ch. 4: The New Sound is Named: “Rock ‘n’ Roll”


It is called “Rock and Roll,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Rock & Roll” and sometimes, simply “Rock”. But, like the term “pop” music, the term “Rock ‘n’ Roll” is broad enough to include decades of diverse musicians, singers and groups, dozens of sub-styles, and tens of thousands of songs.

The terms “rock” and “roll” have referred to movement of a boat on the sea, the comfort given by a mother, the ecstasy of a spiritual experience and finally, as a euphemism in the black community for sex.

Originally, the terms “rock” and “roll” were used by sailors to describe the forward and backwards (rock) and the side-to-side (roll) movement of the boat. In English literature of the 17th century, the terms were often applied to a ship’s activity in the water and occasionally to a mother’s rocking (forwards and backwards) of a young child.

By the late 1800s, though, the terms were beginning to appear in spirituals, applying them to the safety and surrender of being “in the arms of Jesus.” One spiritual, “The Campmeeting Jubilee” says:

We’ve been rockin’ an’ rolling in your arms,

Rockin’ and rolling in your arms,

Rockin’ and rolling in your arms,

In the arms of Jesus.

In the African-American gospel tradition, rocking and rolling referred to the spiritual ecstasy and powerful rhythm that came from singing and being moved by the Holy Spirit. “Rock Me, Lord,” “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” and “Rock Me in the Cradle of Love” were spirituals widely sung in religious gatherings in the early 1900s.

About the same time, black secular musicians, familiar with the usage of the term in church services, were borrowing it to use as a euphemism for dance or sex. “Rock That Thing” (Lil Johnson 1929); “Rock Me Mama” (Banjo Ikey Robinson 1929); “Rockin’ In Rhythm” (Duke Ellington 1928); “Rock Me In The Groove” (Sweet Georgia Brown 1941); and “I Want To Rock” (Cab Calloway 1942) are just a few of the secular examples of the term used prior to the 1950’s. Trixie Smith’s “My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” in 1922 used double euphemisms in the title, one for her lover and one for sex.

It was Wynonie Harris’s 1947 recording of Roy Brown’s classic “Good Rockin’ Tonight” which first applied the term to sex and dance in a rhythm and blues song. Within a few years, the terms “rock” and “roll” were widely understood in the black secular music world as acceptable lyric substitutes for sex.

Wynonie Harris – “Good Rockin’ Tonight” which reached #1 on the charts in 1948:

Although the broad term “race music” covered all music performed by African-American performers in the first half of the 20th century, the term “rhythm & blues” was widely used as early as 1949 to refer to any type of black music apart from either jazz or gospel. Whether the music was crooners, jump blues, boogie-woogie piano or ballads, the same blanket term, rhythm and blues, was applied.

Alan Freed

When a new sound began evolving in the early 1950s, radio disc jockeys, responsible for selecting, spinning and sometimes promoting new songs, looked for a term which would distinguish it from “rhythm & blues,” which was unacceptable to play on the major radio stations before midnight. The term that Alan Freed, DJ at Cleveland’s WJW, began using as a code word for “rhythm & blues” was “rock & roll”. Freed, whose radio nickname was Moondog, began widely promoting both the term and the music with his Moondog’s Rock and Roll Party events where both black and white teenagers could hear the artists live in concert. His first major event, Moondog Coronation Ball, was attended by over 25,000 mostly white teens, far more than the 10,000 who could be accommodated by the hall. The resulting riot was just the first of his unfortunate encounters with the law.

The term “rock ‘n’ roll” was first applied to such broad divergent sounds as “Earth Angel” by the Penguins and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Big Joe Turner and became widely accepted by radio disk jockeys, white and black teens, and eventually the entire public. Rock ‘n’ roll, just another term for rhythm and blues, was widely known in the black community by 1953 – the year Elvis walked into Sun Records in Memphis. Presley may have been the date that brought rock ‘n’ roll to its first national dance, but by then it was already well experienced in the ways of dancing, rhythm, and love.

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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