History of Rock and Roll, Part 1

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. This is Ray Freeman, with Rich Kleinfeldt. Today we begin the story of the first fifty years of rock and roll.

Rock and roll combines many kinds of American music -- country music, folk music, church music, work songs, blues and jazz. Rock and roll developed in the early nineteen-fifties from a kind of music called rhythm and blues. Black singers and musicians performed rhythm and blues. At first, this music was popular only with African-Americans.

But, during the early nineteen-fifties, the popularity of rhythm and blues music spread. It became very popular among white young people. They listened to this music on radio stations that broadcast across the country late at night. Some teenagers began buying rhythm and blues records as a form of rebellion. This music was very different from the music that was popular with their parents.

The music was exciting. It had a very strong rhythm and beat. Some of the songs were about sex.

Some adults strongly objected to rhythm and blues music. They did not think young people should listen to it.

Alan Freed had a radio show in Cleveland, Ohio in the early nineteen-fifties. He is said to be the first person to use the expression "rock and roll" to describe rhythm and blues music. Alan Freed was one of the first to play rock and roll music on his radio show. And he organized the first rock and roll concert in Cleveland in nineteen-fifty-two.

Songs by black performers like Fats Domino and Little Richard soon became popular with white teenagers. These singers recorded their records in the southern city of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Many experts believe that rock and roll music was born in the southern city of Memphis, Tennessee. Sam Phillips was a white record producer there. He produced records by local black musicians. One day, an eighteen-year-old truck driver came to his studio to record a song for his mother. The young man was Elvis Presley. Phillips produced Presley's first real record in nineteen-fifty-four. Many experts consider it to be the first rock and roll song. It is called "That's All Right."

Experts say another song is important in the history of rock and roll. Bill Haley and his Comets recorded "Rock Around the Clock" in nineteen-fifty-four. It was not popular at first. Then it was used in a movie about rebellious teenagers, called "The Blackboard Jungle." The movie caused a lot of debate. It also made the song a huge hit. "Rock Around the Clock" became a song of teenage rebellion.

Many other rock and roll singers became popular in the nineteen-fifties. They included Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. Each performer created his own kind of rock and roll. Chuck Berry's music was a mixture of country and rhythm and blues. In nineteen-fifty-five, his song "Maybellene" was one of the most popular songs in the country.

In the nineteen-sixties, black music and musicians became recognized as an important part of the music industry in America. This was because a company in Detroit, Michigan, called Motown Records produced some of the most popular songs in American music. Berry Gordy started Motown Records. He was the first person to present black music so it appealed to both blacks and whites. One of Motown's most successful groups was the Supremes, led by Diana Ross. Here is one of their hits, "Come See About Me."

A different kind of rock and roll music was developing in Southern California. Five young men from Los Angeles formed a group called the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson wrote, performed, and produced the group's records. The Beach Boys' songs had complex music and simple words. The words were about the local teenage culture. The group sang about riding surfboards on the ocean waves. One of their most popular songs was "Surfin' USA.”

It was also in the nineteen-sixties that rock and roll music began to change. The words became as important as the music. Bob Dylan began writing songs that many young people considered to be poetry. Dylan was influenced by folk singers and songwriters like Woody Guthrie. Dylan's early songs concerned serious social issues. He wrote about war and racial injustice.

Some of his songs were used as protest songs for the anti-war and civil rights movements in America. Later, Dylan wrote more personal songs. Here is one of his most popular songs, “Mr. Tambourine Man."

In nineteen-sixty-four, a new rock and roll group from England invaded America. Some say the Beatles' music shook America like an earthquake. The Beatles changed rock and roll music forever.

Our program was written by Shelley Gollust and produced by Caty Weaver and Lawan Davis. I’m Ray Freeman. Next week, Rich Kleinfeldt and I continue the story of rock and roll on THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.

Visitors to America can learn more at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. Or visit, on the Internet, rockhall -- one word, rockhall.com.

We leave you now with one of my favorite rock and roll hits from nineteen-sixty-one. Ray Charles sings, “Hit the Road Jack.”