Tag Archives: Fear of Rock

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Houston, TX

Fear of Rock

The Fear of Rock and Roll · Propeller
1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

August 21, 1955

Some have argued that rock and roll did as much to integrate the United States as legislation or demonstrations. It is difficult to quantify the contribution of any one civil rights strategy, but it is interesting to think that rock and roll music did not start out as a way to bring races together.

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

International fear

The fear of rock music was not limited to the United States. On May 8, 1954 the UK’s BBC radio banned Johnnie Ray’s song “Such A Night” after some listeners complained about its ‘suggestiveness.’ Ray was famous for his emotional stage act, which included beating up his piano and writhing on the floor.

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Billboard’s Fear

Later that year, on September 24, 1954, a Billboard magazine editorial entitled “Control the Dimwits” called for removing rhythm and blues records with sexual double entendres from jukeboxes.

The Songwriters Protective Association (today the Songwriters Guild of America ) endorsed the editorial. Police in Memphis, Tennessee, and Long Beach, California, confiscated jukeboxes with the offending records. The largest jukebox operator in the New York City area offered to remove any records that Billboard listed.

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Variety’s Fear

The following year, on February 23, 1955, Variety magazine wrote “A Warning to the Music Business,. Music ‘leer-ics’ are touching new lows and …policing, if you will, [has] to come from more responsible sources. Meaning the . . . record manufacturers and their network daddies. . . . It won’t wash for them to . . . justify their ‘leer-ic’ garbage by declaring ‘that’s what kids want’ or ‘that’s the only thing that sells today.”

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Institutional Fear

Again that year, on May 17, 1955,  Princeton University students played the Bill Haley hit record Rock Around the Clock simultaneously from their dorm rooms. University administrators suspended four students.

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Municipal Fear

Some US cities began to ban concerts by certain rock and roll artists…mainly black like Fats Domino.

1955 Juvenile Delinquency Crime Commission

Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Commission

Finally on August 21, 1955, the Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Commission in Houston, Texas, claimed success  in its anti-rock and roll crusade. The effort involved pressuring radio stations not to play recordings with “lewd or suggestive” lyrics. All nine Houston radio stations had cooperated.

The Commission had prepared a list of objectionable records. “Wash-Out-The Air,” a subcommittee of the Commission, looked for records that were supposedly suggestive, obscene, or had lewd intonations. The list contained twenty-six records and almost all by black artists, including:

  • Ray Charles “I Got a Woman”
  • Clyde McPhatter “Whatcha’ Gonna Do Now”
  • Hank Ballard and the Midnighters “Annie Had a Baby”
  • Dominoes “Sixty Minute Man”
  • Drifters “Honey Love”
  • Roy Brown “Good Rockin’ Tonight”

The Commission told radio station owners that the Commission would complain to the Federal Communications Commission if the stations did not cooperate.

For more about Houston in particular and the fear of rock in general, see the book, Anti-rock: The Opposition to Rock ‘n’ Roll by Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave.

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Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Moma said, “Don’t go looking for trouble, or you’ll find it.”

And if you go looking for poltergeists you’ll find them, too.

By June 2, 1956 Fats Domino, Sam Phillips, Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88,” Alan Freed, Elvis, Bill Haley, the Blackboard Jungle, Little Richard, and other early R & B people were well on to inventing this new thing, Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Fear of Rock

And like any new youth music craze (see the “godless” 16th century forbidden waltz), many adults looked to find a menace. It was easy to cast 1950s’ fears onto Rock. Conspiracy theorists could say Communists brought the music into America to weaken us. Other irrational and racist commentators claimed that the lazy promiscuous (both at the same time?!) Negro was the fault. Or if you were in California, Mexican-Americans.

And 1950 adults tried to stomp out the music and its suggestive dancing and lyrics.

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Zoot suit  

Pachuko (or pachuco) refers to a style of dressing that might be better known as the zoot suit.

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Chuck Higgins

Chuck Higgins was born in Gary, Indiana on April 17, 1924. According to a Black Cat Rockabilly article, “His first choice of instrument was the trumpet, which he took up at he age of ten and at which he became considerably more proficient than he ever did at playing the tenor saxophone.”

He and his family moved to California in 1940 where he eventually became the leader and saxophonist of  Chuck Higgins & His Mellotones.

In 1952 he wrote “Pachuko Hop.” The song became a local hit.

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Santa Cruz dance show

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

As was happening throughout the US, on June 2, 1956 there was a dance in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium featuring Chuck Higgins and his Orchestra. Police entered the auditorium just to check on the event, and what they found, according to Lieutenant Richard Overton, was a crowd “engaged in suggestive, stimulating and tantalizing motions induced by the provocative rhythms of an all-negro band.”

Lt. Overton shut down the dance.

The next day, June 3, 1956, Santa Cruz city authorities announced a total ban on rock and roll at public gatherings, calling the music “Detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop

Woodstock


4822 days days later, 500,000 young people gathered on a Bethel, NY hay field to enjoy three days of music. On the second day Country Joe led them in a cheer.

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop
Woodstock Music and Art Fair (photo by J Shelley)

Thank you for your contribution to that thread Chuck Higgins and your “Pachuko Hop.”

Chuck Higgins Pachuko Hop
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Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle

Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle

Bill Haley & His Comets singing “Rock Around the Clock”

Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle
L-R: Louis Calhern, Glenn Ford Sidney Poitier in Blackboard Jungle
Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle

 Communists everywhere

In the 1950s many Americans thought they saw Communists in every nook and cranny. And Americans blamed what they defined as social ills on Communism’s influence.

Civil Rights? Communism.

Folk music? Communism.

Homosexuality? Communism.

The Beat Generation? Communism.

Juvenile delinquency? Communism.

Rock and Roll? Communism.

Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle

Ed McBain

           The novel Blackboard Jungle was published in 1954. Ed McBain, using the pseudonym Evan Hunter,  wrote the book.  The following year Richard Brooks directed the film.

The film reinforced the popular view that teenagers, particularly those who lived in the cities, were out of control. Disrespectful. Lazy. Intemperate.

The movie opened with Bill Haley & the Comets “Rock Around the Clock.” The song was actually the B-side of a single the band had released in May 1954, “Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town).” The single didn’t go far on the charts. Not until its now-famous B-side opened the movie.

Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle

Rock Around the Clock

           On July 9, 1955, “Rock Around the Clock” became the first rock and roll recording to hit the top of Billboard’s Pop charts. The song stayed there for eight weeks.

Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle

10 Times the Clock

It was on this date, May 17, in 1955 that the so-called Princeton Riot occurred.

According to Princeton dot edu, “On May 17, 1955, the juvenile delinquency drama Blackboard Jungle closed its run at Princeton’s Garden Theater. That night, 10 enterprising students met at a local record shop to purchase copies of the film’s groundbreaking theme song, “Rock Around the Clock.” The plan, as revealed in the next day’s “Prince”: to blare Bill Haley’s hit single at 11 p.m. from “key places” on campus “in hopes of triggering an outburst.

Blackboard Jungle
NYT article
Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle

Earlier Memphis Ban

That Blackboard Jungle was in the news was not new. On March 28, 1955, Memphis, Tennessee’s censor board had banned the film.

In fact 1955 was a tough year for rock and roll promoters. On May 22,  Bridgeport, Connecticut authorities had cancelled a Fats Domino concert because of the dangers of “Rock and Roll.”  Similar rock and roll concert cancellations due to local officials’ fear of possible violence occurred in Boston, Atlanta, Newark, Asbury Park, New Jersey, and Burbank, California.

And remember that the Ed Sullivan Show had presented only the top half of Elvis Presley’s first appearance.

As for that Princeton riot, the faculty committee suspended four students.

Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle

Princeton Four

Blackboard Jungle
NYT article
Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle

Clare Boothe Luce objects

On August 26,  Blackboard Jungle was removed from consideration at the Venice Film Festival because of objections by the U.S. Ambassador to Italy, Clare Boothe Luce, but the movie received four Oscar nominations (won none).

Today considered a landmark film about the 1950s. And though Bill Haley’s song was not the first rock and roll song, it is often credited with making rock and roll popular far beyond its 1950 boundaries.

Princeton Riot Blackboard Jungle
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