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History of Rock and Roll Music


History of Rock and Roll Music

By Stacey Hall, Circulation, Richard Byrd Library

Where did rock and roll music come from? This question has been debated for years. Shake, Rattle & Roll, by Holly George Warren explains that some people believe the musical rhythms originated from Europe & Africa a long time ago.

Yet, others think of America as the birthplace of rock and roll, as Jim O’Connor writes in What is Rock and Roll?

Kit O’Toole, writing for, reports that “Rocket 88” is widely believed to be the first rock and roll song. Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats recorded it in 1951.

Rock and roll music became popular in the 1950s, due to the wide availability of radios, jukeboxes and record players. Fans could also watch musicians perform on television programs, such as “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “American Bandstand”. Teenagers loved the catchy lyrics and beats of the music of early rock stars such as:

  • Chuck Berry was called the “father” of rock and roll. On stage, he played electric guitar, while walking like a duck. “Rock and Roll Music” and “Johnny B. Goode” were two of his biggest songs.
  • Elvis Presley had stage fright, which made his body shake. He purposely continued this when fans cheered him on; adults disapproved. He later became known as “The King”(of Rock & Roll).
  • Antoine “Fats” Domino learned to play piano as a child and performed in New Orleans clubs as a teenager. “Blueberry Hill” was one of his top hits.
  • Bo Diddley (born Ellas Bates) learned to build violins and guitars himself, liked using a rectangular guitar and gained fame with his first hit, “Bo Diddley.”
  • Bill Haley wrote “Rock Around the Clock,” which became a huge hit in 1955, for him and his band, the Comets.
  • Little Richard (Richard Penniman) was a super-fast pianist with a flashy style who hollered on stage.

In 1964, The Beatles arrived in New York from England for their first American concert tour. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! by Bob Spitz describes “Beatlemania” which ensued at their shows … this included fans screaming, crying and fainting. Even though The Beatles broke up in 1970, they still affect the world, as new generations of fans discover their music.

The huge popularity of The Beatles led to other British bands becoming successful, such as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin; reporters called it the “British Invasion.”

In 1969, a famous outdoor music festival called Woodstock took place in New York. What was Woodstock? by Joan Holub reports that 400,000 fans attended! Janis Joplin and Creedence Clearwater Revival were among the performers. Jimi Hendrix, who could play guitar with his teeth(!) ended the show. Acclaimed singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was asked to perform but he chose not to attend.

Rock and roll music continues to be popular today. The Rolling Stones draw big crowds on their tours. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band thrill their fans with three-to-four-hour concerts. U2, Pearl Jam and Aerosmith are popular bands, too.

Rock on!

Fairfax Virtual Assistant