Part II - Society's & Culture's Impact on The Art of Music

The Birth Of Rock.

 
The Influences of rock-n-roll

The Influences of rock-n-roll

 

Following the Second World War, a renewed spirit reenergized the country.  Birth rates soared and the economy was growing at a rapid pace for the middle class.  Despite entering into the Korean War, this rejuvenated spirit found its way into a new genre of music.  Blending the sounds of gospel, blues and swing, alongside the introduction of electric guitar by Les Paul, Rock & Roll was born.  Although far different in sound, Rock music shares much with the Jazz Age. The 50s were a very socially conservative time, and while Rock & Roll didn't address these values head-on, it's loud, rowdy and sometimes bawdry lyrics challenged these ideals.  

The end of the war, inequality prevails, but les paul's gibson provides Release. 

The end of the war, inequality prevails, but les paul's gibson provides Release. 

Despite segregation still plaguing the nation, Rock & Roll saw many pioneers like Chuck Berry and Little Richard achieve mainstream success alongside artists like Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. Unlike the folk movement, the message of Rock & Roll wasn't to raise awareness of social causes but to showcase the musicianship and to work the crowd into a frenzied dance party, solely for the enjoyment of the moment.

rock around the clock
elvis presley,  chuck berry,   and  jerry lee lewis

elvis presley,  chuck berry,   and  jerry lee lewis

 

By the late 1950's, televisions were entering more homes and Rock & Roll jumped off the phonograph and onto the small black and white screens with teenagers and music fans alike glued inches away.  This allowed them allowing to not only experience the newly amplified sounds, but to watch their favorite performers on shows like Ed Sullivan or American Bandstand in the comfort of their own homes. Television still embarked on censorship and segregation, showing the dancers only from the hips up as the gyrations were deemed inappropriate, and originally banning black teenagers as on screen dancers,  leading to the creation of their own similar shows.

music embraced through a new medium

music embraced through a new medium

 

The 1960s - The Folk Revival and Youth Uprising. 

The idealism that permeated the prior decade began to fade by the time the 1960s arrived. The baby boomers, the term affectionately given to the generation born just after the Second World War, were set to change not only music, but the direction of the entire nation. The popular music of the early 1960s was considered rather non-controversial and still epitomized the values of the 50's. While these songs still dominated the radio, the new generation began to take notice that racial and social injustices had not improved during the previous decade. The civil rights movement, which took root in the 1950s was gaining allies and momentum. Meanwhile, the US involvement in Vietnam was begging to escalate.  The idealistic values of the 1950s soon gave way to a time of challenging the establishment, through peaceful sit-ins, boycotts, marches and a collective voice expressing their discontent with the establishment. 

 
signs of the 60's

signs of the 60's

 

During this time, a folk revival was taking hold in New York City.  Neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Washington Square become the creative hubs for this revival and served as a place for musicians to congregate, perform and discuss the current socio-political climate. Local folk musicians such as Janis Ian, Richie Havens, Peter, Paul & Mary,  and "adopted" New Yorker Odetta became very popular. 

folk musicians in ny

Coffee shops became popular hot spots for performers like Joan Baez, Pete Seegar and Bob Dylan, all of whom joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. march on Washington in 1963 to perform the song "We Shall Overcome".  This revival, along with the message it carried, began to spread and resonated with the young, college aged men and women who would soon propel the movement to a national level. 

 

joan baez with martin luther king jr -- march on washington

joan baez with martin luther king jr -- march on washington

 

Growing frustration within the civil rights struggle and a large anti-war movement provided more fuel to expand the youth revolt, whose members were colloquially called "hippies". Much like their folk brethren, this new subculture saw music as a means to communicate their message to the masses. Bob Dylan perfectly encapsulated this movement in his 1964 song "The Times They Are A-Changin". As the movement grew, the music expanded from the folk hangouts and coffee shops and began to take shape in Rock & Roll.  

vietnam war collage

Tensions continued to increase between the hippie movement and the establishment. Many saw the US involvement in Vietnam to be unjust, specifically when the poor and black soldiers were often those sent to fight as they were unable to defer their draft.  Police and protesters often clashed on college campuses throughout the nation. One of the first pop songs to express this sentiment is Barry McGuire's 1965 "Eve of Destruction".

By 1965, the hippie movement had a firm hold on the nations young. Thousands of youth began to migrate west to San Fransisco, making the city the unofficial headquarters for the subculture.  Those that ventured west often dismissed the social norms of the times and believed in the freedom of expression, individualism and attitudes towards sex and drugs became much more liberal. With this large influx of idealistic youth, a new prolific art and music movement was set in motion. 

 

BY: KEVIN FINKBEINER

Contributing from Metro Detroit, Michigan

 

**Next: Part III of our series will look at The Late 60's and The Summer of Love