This year marks a momentous anniversary. It has been 60 years since Rock and Roll entered the popular consciousness. In observance of this occasion, TheBestSchools.org is thrilled to unveil David A. Tomar’s “Rock and Roll at Sixty: The Narrative History of Rock and Roll’s Conception.” As the title suggests, this piece takes the reader on a sonic journey through the early 20th Century, stopping to observe the musical touchstones that ultimately led to the birth of rock and roll.
As this rich and varied history demonstrates, the musical genre that would come to dominate popular culture in the second half of the 20th century was born out of a confluence of separate but interwoven sounds. Before Elvis Presley and his contemporaries could change the world, they would be preceded by decades of raw, raucous, and startlingly original music, all of which prefigured the advent of rock and roll.
“Rock and Roll at Sixty” tells the story of this music, selecting 50 landmark recordings spanning 1922 to 1954 and highlighting their role in the inevitable cultural explosion that was rock and roll. Familiar names like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman populate this narrative history. So too do forgotten pioneers like Stick McGhee, Tiny Bradshaw, and Sugar Boy Crawford. In addition to telling the chronological history of rock and roll’s conception, this account offers some colorful biographical insight into the key figures that made it possible.
In addition to key figures, “Rock and Roll at Sixty” gives due credit to key compositions, illuminating the origins of perennial standards like “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” and “Rock Around the Clock,” each of which took its own winding path to cultural permanence.
History looks to 1955 as the start of something remarkable, and it was. But “Rock and Roll at Sixty” proves that the seminally influential Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis were themselves forged by a diverse, fascinating, and enthralling set of influences. From delta blues to hillbilly boogie, from Kentucky bluegrass to Appalachian folk, from church spirituals to vaudevillian burlesque, from downtown rhythm & blues to uptown swing, these infinitely variable sounds of praise, lamentation, and celebration gradually came together to produce something new.
“Rock and Roll at Sixty” tells how this came to be, offering a narrative tale that not only outlines the pre-history of rock and roll but one that inevitably also tells a story of America’s history during the early 20th Century.