Rock ‘n’ roll music in the ’50s: First adults called it a fad, then they wanted it banned

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Rock n roll music in the 1950s

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

In the fifties, people wanted to know — what was rock ‘n’ roll music? Where did this wild dance “noise” come from — and was it safe for the kids?

The first story below was written by Hal Boyle, a nationally-syndicated columnist (and Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist), and was one of the earliest articles that attempted to describe the latest fad that gripped the land — that crazy thing the teenagers called rock ‘n’ roll.

Though you might not think it likely from the explanation given here, the newfangled style of music did, indeed, catch on. So much so, in fact, that a lot of cities banned rock music.

A look back at rock music from 1956 (2)

Rock ‘n’ Roll rhythm is sweeping the teen-age set, but what is it? (1955)

By Hal Boyle in the Rapid City Journal (South Dakota) April 04, 1955

While their sedate elders are still stately prancing to the mambo, the teenagers are reeling to another rhythm. It is called “Rock ‘n Roll.”

But just what is it? No use to ask a teenager. His mouth simply falls open, a glassy look comes into his eyes, and his body begins to undulate like an earthworm with the stomachache.

So I went to Mindy Carson for an answer. Mindy, a vibrant young blonde who once earned $60 a week selling candy, and now earns $4,000 a week up singing in supper clubs, is tops right now with the teenagers.

The latest of her 100 recordings, “The Fish,” is creating a kind of epidemic among the Rock ‘n Roll set.

Rock 'n' roll music: The newest teenage dance craze

“It’s easier to feel what rock ‘n’ roll is than to explain it in words,” said Mindy. “It’s a kind of rhythmic beat.

“Actually, it’s not a new type of music. Dixieland and Rock ‘n Roll are really the two basic types of original music in America. Is that clear?”

“Oh, yes indeed,” I told her.

“But is rock ‘n roll pretty much like jazz?”

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” replied Mindy. “Rock and roll isn’t arranged music. it’s a beat — it’s well, it’s kind of a feeling, you understand?”

“Like having money? That’s a nice feeling.”

“No, it doesn’t feel like having money exactly. It’s different.”

Mindy Carson on rock n roll music

“Just what does it have that’s so different?” I asked. “I’m getting a strange, confused, mixed-up feeling. Is that what rock ‘n roll gives you?”

“Not in the least,” laughed Mindy. “Rock ‘n roll is a beat. It makes you want to dance. If you feel like you can’t lose the rock ‘n roll rhythm. Once it catches you, it pounds inside you.

“It isn’t as subtle as a pulse beat. Rock ‘n roll has even more power. You really do understand it, don’t you?”

“Well, I have a feeling –” I began.

“That’s it,” said Mindy, pleased. “It’s really simple, once you grasp it.”

Okay, that’s rock ‘n roll. Any questions?

(Editor’s note: Frankly, I don’t know any more than I did before.)

(Boyle’s note: That makes two of us.)

(Mindy’s note: Maybe this will clue you both. Pick up a telephone book, open it at random, and start singing the names. When you begin to have the feeling the names are making music — well, boys, you’re rockin’ ‘n’ rollin‘.)

Shake Rattle and Rock movie


Rock ‘n’ roll music: A frenzied teenage music craze kicks up a big fuss (1955)

Excerpted from Life magazine – April 18, 1955

The nation’s teen-agers are dancing their way into an enlarging controversy over rock ‘n roll.

In New Haven, Conn. the police chief has put a damper on rock ‘n roll parties, and other towns are following suit.

Radio networks are worried over questionable lyrics in rock ‘n roll. And some American parents, without quite knowing what it is their kids are up to, are worried that its something they shouldn’t be.

Did they really ban rock 'n' roll music - 1955
COP IN CONTROVERSY, Police Chief Francis McManus of New Haven, Conn., banned rock ‘n roll.

Rock ‘n roll is both musk and dance. The music has a rhythm often heavily accented on the second and fourth beat.

The dance combines the Lindy and Charleston, and almost anything else.

In performing it, hollering helps and a boot banging the floor makes it even better. The over-all result, frequently, is frenzy.

Alan Freed - Rock N Roll fans April 1955


Banning rock music: The ’50s Rock ‘n’ Roll craze (1956)

The Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) July 18, 1956

City commissioners of Jersey City turned deaf ears to pleas to rescind a ban on a rock ‘n’ roll concert that had been scheduled recently.

Then city officials in Asbury Park, N.J., slapped on a blanket ban on all rock and roll music.

Other New Jersey communities were swift to line up in the attack against the music, blamed for riots and violence across the country.

One of the most scandalous was on July 1 at Asbury Park, when juveniles fought with knives, fists and legs of chairs.

A look back at rock music from 1956 (5)

From similar incidents, it would appear the rock ‘n’ roll craze is not exactly the same as past Big Apple, Lindy Hop, Black Bottom and Charleston fads.

For the Asbury affair was duplicated one week later in San Jose, Calif., where 75 police were needed to quell a rock ‘n’ roll riot. Damage amounted to $3,000. Thirteen youngsters were hurt badly enough to require treatment. Nine others were arrested.

There were earlier riots in Washington, D.C. — twice there — and Atlanta, Ga. A Birmingham, Ala., rock ‘n’ roll group drew pickets.

Rock n roll music in the 1950s (1)

Then there was the widespread criticism of Elvis Presley, 21-year-old hillbilly exponent of rock ‘n’ roll, for the taste of his performance on the June 3 television show.

He later was on another show, there being a prior announcement that it would be a “new”‘ Presley.

The singer’s movements were not so questionable as when he appeared earlier, and the result was a storm of protest of a different type. The Presley fans objected — and they apparently are numerous and almost as strident as the singer.Rock, Pretty Baby! (1956)

But back to rock ‘n’ roll. What is it? Where does it come from and where is it going?

Very little seems to be on record as to its origin. It appears to be a highly commercialized synthesis of the more obvious aspects of hillbilly music, blues and spirituals, accenting stridently a two-beat rhythm.

Mitch Miller, recording star and record company executive, says, “It’s been going on for 50 years — maybe a hundred.” He indicates it’s an offshoot of the Southern “rhythm and blues” music.

Rock n roll music in the 1950s (3)

Paul Whiteman, who was to emcee the canceled concert in Jersey City, calls it an “interesting fad.” Says Whiteman, “It’s got a lot of rhythm to it, but the craze won’t last.”

But Sammy Kaye, band leader who protested to the Jersey City mayor over the banning of the Whiteman concert, calls the music “tremendously exciting and popular.”‘ He also has a good word for the fans — “most of the youngsters who enjoy rock ‘n’ roll are nice, respectable kids.”

Rock ‘n’ roll would appear to have a somewhat stormy future against a background of complaints that it is questionable entertainment, and a record of disorders by juvenile participants.

The chances are it is a temporary craze that will not take too long to run its course, but there is no excuse for letting it run completely wild. It is something which parents, youth organizations and others should scan more closely to determine if any damage is being done to the moral structure of the newer generation.

Audience for Bill Haley and His Comets concert - 1950s


The rock ‘n’ Roll craze and rage (1956)

Editorial from the Salt Lake Tribune (Utah) July 16, 1956

Many parents are confused and uneasy about the “rock ‘n’ roll” craze which glues teen-agers to radios emitting dissonant and unrhythmic noises.

In several cities, youngsters have become worked up to a frenzy while dancing or listening to this latest form of “jazz” and serious riots have occurred. Early this month 13 teenagers were injured and nine were arrested in a “rock ‘n’ roll’ disturbance at San Jose, Calif.

At Asbury Park, N. J., it took police from 12 nearby towns to quell the riot which police said resulted from “too much cold beer and hot music.”

Rock n roll music in the 1950s (4)

Despite pleas from name-band leaders and others, the city fathers of Jersey City refused to back down on their ban of a “rock ‘n’ roll’ concert scheduled last weekend.

What is all the fuss about? Is “rock ‘n’ roll” any worse than the jitterbugging, the Big Apple, Lindy Hop, Black Bottom and Charleston fads of the past? Or the Camel Walk craze? Or “the Rag’?

Rock n roll music in the 1950s (2)

Our editorial researcher says “rock ‘n’ roll” appears to be a commercialized synthesis of the more obvious aspects of hillbilly music, blues, and spirituals, accenting stridently a two-beat rhythm.” In other words, it can’t be defined, or described.

Impresario Mitch Miller claims: “It’s been going on for 80 years and is an offshoot of the southern ‘rhythm and blues’ music.”

And Paul Whiteman, who was to have emceed the Jersey City fracas, calls it “an interesting fad” that won’t last. Sammy Kaye insists most youngsters who enjoy “rock ‘n’ roll” are “nice, respectable kids.”

Yes, but some parents are bound to inquire are they quite sane?

Dance and music frenzies have been sweeping large segments of the population, primitive and civilized, since early times.

Where will the “rock ‘n’ roll” craze end? Maybe when a zanier kind of music and activity is devised and plugged by the disc jockeys.

NOW SEE THIS: How Bill Haley & His Comets rocked around the clock when rock ‘n’ roll was brand new

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