The term ‘rock and roll’ is now so familiar to us that few ask where it got its origins and how the name came about. While there are many theories on the beginnings of rock and roll, many agree it was dubbed this name after World War II. The sound, was then born from a fusion of rhythm and blues along with influences from the African American culture as well as from America’s country music and gospel music scenes. Some say rock and roll dates back further in country records of the 1930s, blues records of the 1920s even though it was never labeled as such.
Despite the uncertainty of the timeline of rock and rolls true beginnings, it is believed that the sound did originate in the south due to a conglomeration of different music traditions from the region. From there, it grew due to the migration of many freed slaves and their descendants to major urban centers like Memphis and north to New York City, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Buffalo. In these cities, black and white residents were living in close proximity of one another and as a result began emulating one another’s style.
In the 1930s jazz and swing were among the first types of music to present African American sounds for a predominately white audience. This was followed in the 40s by horns, saxophones, shouted lyrics and boogie-woogie beats. During and immediately after World War II, with shortages of fuel and limitations on audiences, large jazz bands were less economical and tended to be replaced by smaller combos, using guitars, bass and drums. This was followed by the development of “jump blues” with its guitar riffs and prominent beats.
Rock and roll continued to evolve for many reasons, one being technology. With the development of the electric guitar, amplifier and microphone, came huge changes in the sound and industry.
Subgenres of ‘rock and roll’ also came out of the changes in the music style. Fusion sounds such as folk with rock coined the term ‘folk-rock’ In the 1970s, rock also included soft rock, glam rock, heavy metal, hard rock, progressive rock, and punk rock. In the 1980s there was New Wave, hardcore punk and alternative rock.
As far as the term “rock and roll”, this may have stemmed either from sexual or spiritual connotations. “Rocking” was a term used by black gospel singers in the American South to mean something akin to spiritual rapture. In 1916 “The Camp Meeting Jubilee,” recorded a song whose lyrics include “We’ve been rocking and rolling in your arms / Rocking and rolling in your arms / In the arms of Moses.” And yet, in 1937, Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald recorded “Rock It for Me”, which included the lyric, “So won’t you satisfy my soul with the rock and roll”. At the time, the term ‘roll’ meant having sex. Others say the term rock and roll have nothing to do with sex or being spiritually moved but by the motion of a ship at sea or a train in motion. Nobody knows for certain how the term came about or what it meant as it was quite possible it could have meant all of the above.
More important than the terminology or exact origins of rock and roll, this genre of music is known for its social effects, which were worldwide and on a grand scale. Some believe with the combination of sounds from so many cultures came the greater push for the civil rights movement due to the fact both African American teens and white American teens enjoyed the music. Later, rock and roll was thought to have been the emphasis behind the hippy movement, peace not war as well as the drug culture.
As ambiguous as rock and roll’s beginnings is its effects socially on cultures. Either way, people all over the world are enjoying its sound, whatever it may get called and whatever subgenre may get assigned to it.
Jeff Bachmeier is owner of 977music.com, an online music and online radio station network providing live streaming Internet Radio channels with music from the 50’s thru Today. Users can also choose to create their own customized on demand playlist through their own social media profile. For more information please visit http://www.977music.com.