The 1950s was an era of prosperity and conservatism in the United States. The American dream of a house with a white picket fence became desirable and attainable. The rise of television offered a uniform vision of life and success. What was seen on TV became the norm, especially for young people. New music genres also emerged in the 1950s. All of these factors helped change the outlook of young people.
Early 1950s Music
In the early 1950s, teens mainly listened to their parents' music. The Fifties Web describes the music of artists who dominated the charts, such as Perry Como, Pat Boone and Rosemary Clooney, as "feel good." The music of these artists reflected the mood of post-World War II America.
Rise of Rock 'N' Roll
Out of this conservatism arose a new musical form called rock 'n' roll. It was a fusion of country, rhythm and blues, and Tin Pan Alley, according to Dr. Frank Hoffmann. There is debate on when rock 'n' roll started; however, "Rock Around the Clock," which was recorded by Bill Haley & the Comets on April 12, 1954, was most likely the first hit of the new genre. In 1956, Elvis Presley achieved fame and stardom after a series of TV performances, most notably on "The Ed Sullivan Show." His success pushed rock 'n' roll into the mainstream.
Effect of Rock 'N' Roll
Most parents despised rock 'n' roll, and this had a profound effect on the way teenagers viewed the new genre. It became forbidden fruit. According to Teacher Webspace, parents feared their teens would be harmed by the "vulgar, oversexed rock 'n' roll stars like Elvis." But the more they objected, the more popular it became. Teens were excited by rock 'n' roll, which seemed to give them an identity separate from their parents. The teens also had money to spend on records, radios and clothes, so they could imitate the rock 'n' roll stars they saw on TV and in movies.
Through rock music and TV, teenagers began to experience freedom and experiences their parents never had. According to Rewind the 1950s, "It seemed as if teenagers were becoming more rebellious, defensive, and at times, disrespectful, and that listening to rock 'n' roll was the root cause of all this rebellion." Music did influence how teenagers reacted to authority and increased their desire for their own identity, but the belief that rock 'n' roll fuelled rebellion was exaggerated, according to Rewind the 1950s.
Rock 'n' roll arrived on the scene at the same time the Civil Rights Movement began to gain traction. According to Cheryl Baer, the two concurrent movements were not a coincidence. The origins of rock 'n' roll are heavily influenced by African-American music and some of the early stars included Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard. Because they were part of the rock 'n' roll industry, it became acceptable for the first time for white audiences to buy records and go to concerts of black performers, according to Hoffmann.
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- Fifties Web: A Brief History of the Early Years of Rock and Roll
- Jeff O's Retro Music; The Rise of Rock and Roll; Dr. Frank Hoffmann
- Halifax Regional School Board Teacher Webspace: Subcultures and Countercultures
- Rewind the Fifties; Teenage Life in the 1950s; Erika Cox
- Humboldt Digital Scholar; Concurrent Revolutions: Rock & Roll and the Civil Rights Movement; Cheryl Baer; 2005
- Schoolworld: Rock and Roll: the Innocent 50s.