songwriter and author Rosanne
Cash premieres her new album "The River and the Thread"
during a special residency at the Library of Congress Dec. 5-7. On
Thursday, Dec. 5, Cash will premiere the album in a concert with the
Rosanne Cash Band, featuring John Leventhal. She hosts a round-robin
with fellow songwriters Leventhal, Cory Chisel, Rodney Crowell and Amy
Helm on Friday, Dec. 6. On Saturday, Dec. 7, she appears with Natasha
Trethewey, the Library’s Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, in a
conversation co-presented by the Library of Congress Poetry and
One of the most compelling figures in popular
music, with a body of work encompassing country, rock, roots and pop
influences, Rosanne Cash inherited a reverence for song and profound
artistry – and an equal duty to find insights of her own. The oldest
daughter of country music icon Johnny Cash
and stepdaughter of June Carter Cash of the legendary Carter Family,
she holds a lineage rooted in the very beginning of American country
music, with its deep cultural and historical connections to the South.
Over a three-decade career she has responded to this heritage with 15
albums of extraordinary songs that have earned a GRAMMY™ Award and
nominations for 12 more, the Americana Honors and Awards’ Album of the
Year Award, and 21 top-40 hits, including 11 No. 1 singles. Her four
books include the best-selling memoir "Composed." In recent seasons,
Cash has appeared in concerts and talks at the Spoleto Festival,
Toronto’s Luminato festival and the Festival of Arts and Ideas, and
partnered in programming collaborations with the Minnesota Orchestra,
Lincoln Center and San Francisco Jazz.
In "The River and the
Thread," Cash evokes the "bittersweet stories of people and places of
the South," in a kaleidoscopic examination of its geographic, emotional
and historic landscape. "I went back to where I was born, and these
songs started arriving in me," she has said. "All these things happened
that made me feel a deeper connection to the South than I ever had. We
started finding these great stories, and the melodies that went with
those experiences … I feel this record ties past and present together
through all those people and places in the South I knew and thought I
had left behind."
Written with her longtime collaborator,
producer, guitarist and husband John Leventhal, the album reflects
journeys through the Southern states, with stops at William Faulkner’s
house; Dockery Farms, the plantation where Howlin’ Wolf and Charley
Patton worked and sang; her father’s boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas;
the Sun Records Studio in Memphis; and the Mississippi Delta, with its
memories of the birth of the Civil Rights era and the haunting
gravesite of the great bluesman Robert Johnson.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Thursday, December 5, 8 p.m. (tickets required)
Rosanne Cash Band, featuring John Leventhal
Coolidge Auditorium, Thomas Jefferson Building
101 Independence Avenue S.E., Washington, D.C.
Friday, December 6, 8 p.m. (tickets required)
Rosanne Cash hosts a round-robin with John Leventhal, Cory Chisel,
Rodney Crowell and Amy Helm
Coolidge Auditorium, Thomas Jefferson Building
Saturday. December 7, 7 p.m. (no tickets required)
Rosanne Cash and Natasha Trethewey, Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
Hosted by Robert Casper, director of the Library of Congress Poetry and
LJ 119, Thomas Jefferson Building
will be the next sound, the next rhythm to move America's teenagers?
What star will blast into orbit, launched by a million imaginations?
Because a change appears imminent, TV Radio Mirror has asked two
experts to crystal-gaze. Art Ford, impresario of Jazz Party, which is
seen live on WNTA, Newark, New Jersey, every Thursday night, and is
syndicated by film in forty-seven countries, believes a major jazz
revival is in prospect. Alan Freed, disc jockey on WABC network radio,
whose rock 'n' roll tours have crisscrossed America, says, "The Big
Beat is here to stay." Both predictions hinge on the fact that rock 'n'
roll grows elderly. Its upsurge began in 1949 and ten years is a long
time in popular music history. Each succeeding generation finds a music
of its own which becomes almost a secret communication, secure against
its elders. In 1900, it was the waltz, then termed "the wickedest dance
in history." In 1911, it was ragtime and Irving Berlin led the parade.
By 1920, jazz was the theme sound for a rebellious, post-war, "Lost
Generation." Jazz surged up out of the Negro South, an earthy blend of
blues, work songs, folk songs, spirituals, and just about everything
else a musically sensitive and gifted primitive people could make its
But jazz became many things to many
people, and, in the 1920's, began branching out. The more learned side
borrowed from the classics and branched again to produce both swing and
progressive jazz. Swing was the thing, and big bands thrived from the
late 30's until the war took band leaders and sidemen into uniform. In
civilian aggregations, the Era of the Vocalist, with Frank Sinatra as
its symbol, came in. When World War II ended, changed economic
conditions meant that the big bands found it difficult to exist.
Meanwhile, in small combos, the bop boys were substituting cool,
complex harmonies for hot rhythm. Progressive jazz resulted. But the
roots which first produced jazz refused to be smothered in
sophistication. While durable Dixieland held its own, the basic beat
and simple style surged up anew in the wild rhythm-and-blues records
which splashed into headlines in the 50's as rock 'n' roll. Now, as the
50's draw toward their close, those kids who first found their sound in
rock 'n' roll are settling down. Mortgage payments and diaper services
concern them more than song hits. Rock 'n' roll, just as its
predecessors, appears to near its crossroads. While some current
teenagers cherish new, improved handpainted Elvis buttons, others
already refer to rock 'n' roll as "corny." Which faction will set the
new trend? Will the Class of 1962 be content to inherit its elders'
music? Ford says they won't. Freed says they will, with certain
changes. Which one will win this battle of modern music?
big move is to jazz, to a spontaneous, exciting renaissance of
Dixieland and swing, Art Ford believes. "It appeals especially to
youthful listeners because it is a warm and a natural kind of music,"
he says. "It takes us out from the lost caverns of progressive jazz. It
makes rock n' roll sound like a cute cousin. This is the real thing."
As signs of the times which confirm his prediction, he cites the great
crowds which last summer attended the outdoor jazz festivals, the
popularity of jazz albums, the increased number of local jazz shows and
the important network jazz programs scheduled for this season.
own Jazz Party, is a New York show which, through film, is
24 foreign countries. It might well be considered a leader in the jazz
trend—for, when it wenton the air over the newly organized
WNTA-TV, it soon jolted the ratings of its New York-area
opposition. Ford's formula is simple: He hand-picks a group of good
jazz men, sets them down in a relaxed atmosphere in a big studio under
low lights, and lets them play. There is no audience. Ford explains,
"We want the musicians to play for themselves, not for applause which
can be triggered." Critics, as well as plain, ordinary listeners, love
it. Writing in the New York Daily News, Kay Gardella compared
with another jazz program and said, "Everything we found fault with
there, Ford manages to transform into a sort of artistic virtue on Jazz
Party. He cheerfully admits, for instance, that he doesn't even know
what the boys will play next or how they will play it. Then he
gracefully gets lost. "Then the musicians who seem to be boss of what
they happen to be doing take over and do what they know how to do the
very best they can. Cameras follow as best they can. Mikes pick up
sound. When everybody is through with the bit, Ford comes back and
says, 'Let's wait for the commercial and look out, man, there they come
again. . . .' When the ride-out comes on the Ford show, it comes
because there ain't no time left—not even for more music, much less for
Ford claims jazz is the new
trend. Can he sustain the contention? With the enthusiasm of a devotee,
Art Ford insists he can. "A renaissance of jazz has started, the likes
of which we've never seen. Count Basie's best-selling new single,
'Swingin' the Blues,' and the perennial popularity of Ella Fitzgerald
and Louis Armstrong are evidence of it. It is triggered, he believes,
by the improved techniques of recording Dixieland groups, "better
reproduction of the high sounds of jazz—the cymbals, the drums and the
brass. "With such sound," Art says, excellent bands like Benny Goodman
and Count Basie bring some of the in-person excitement into recording
and into the home that used to be found in the big theaters and dance
halls where kids flocked in 1939 and 1940."
himself was pre-fan age in those days. Born in New York, April 15,
1929, he is the son of Arthur and Mary Ford. When his father, an
Oxford-trained scientist and inventor, died, Art quit the High School
of Commerce and went to work. Like Richard Hayes, Al Morgan, Sandy
Becker, Jennifer Jones and a number of other young entertainers, he
learned by doing at a pioneer radio station, WWRL, Woodside, Long
Island. "I did my first disc-jockey job in 1941. Two years later, I
went to WNEW." His first assignment at WNEW was Milkman's. First of the
top-rated all-night shows, it was widely copied. He became
director of WNTA when that station was reorganized this year. Art is a
bachelor and maintains apartments in Newark and on Park Avenue in New
York. He also has a beach house on Fire Island. He has studied musical
trends throughout these years of broadcasting. He plays a
clarinet, "just for kicks, never for money," and he's a serious analyst
of jazz and jazz trends.
Asked to define
jazz, Ford says, "It is America's own music, a derivative of the blues,
of the use of the primitive beat as carried into this country by the
people from Africa. It developed in New Orleans with overtones of the
French culture there. It went from New Orleans to Kansas City, St.
Louis, Chicago, and from Chicago to New York. It expresses the
happiness and unhappiness of people in the South. It is our own
American primitive musical form. There is something peculiarly American
which no one can quite put a finger on. It is just us. It has caught on
all over the world. We should be proud of it. Europeans are envious of
it. They appreciate it more than we do." On the subject of rock 'n'
roll vs. jazz, Ford's feelings are strong. "I don't expect this upsurge
in interest in jazz to eliminate rock 'n' roll, I expect it to be an
adjunct to it. A superior adjunct. Jazz is like the ABC's. It is our
own modern primitive. Rock 'n' roll is just a cute cousin. It's fun if
you know your ABC's. Then you can enjoy all forms—the spirituals, the
rock 'n' roll—everything. Everything derives from the ABC's."
considering rock 'n' roll numbers, Ford says, "Some are good, some are
terrible." Referring to his worthy opponent in this debate, he adds,
"It is Alan Freed's responsibility—any disc jockey's responsibility— to
play the good, not the terrible, for any reason at all. I hold him
strictly responsible. I admire his success, but, since he has this
control over the youngsters, he must use it most carefully. "As far as
Freed is concerned, my only opposition to rock 'n' roll is that when it
is played for the sake of just filling up a show of r-and-r music or
plugging artists who are in some of his live shows, without too much
thought of the absolute quality, it is then that I must disagree with
Alan. When Alan plays the best of rock 'n' roll, to me this is exciting
and humorous primitive music. (I use the word primitive in the same
sense as I call Picasso a primitive.) Then I think he's doing a great
service to the country and he's in tune with his times—and so many of
those who criticize rock 'n' roll are not in tune with their times. I
think it is important to be up-to-the-minute in understanding what
young people want to hear, give it to them, and give them the best of
it. . . . They're letting down their responsibility and duty to the
vast audiences these r-and-r disc jockeys have. That would be my only
complaint, but it's a serious one."
subject of progressive jazz, he was even sharper tongued. "It is a pity
we got away from the natural, warm music that was so strong in the
Thirties and Forties and into the lost caverns of progressive jazz."
Progressive jazz, to Ford, is not jazz. "It's a form of modern
classical music. Actually, progressive musicians are playing more
'classical' than 'hot.' If you go to see a symphony concert, you won't
see all the musicians smiling and stamping their feet. It doesn't
happen in cool jazz, either. It has lost the essence of real jazz. It
is, rather, an amateurish beginning of a form of classical music." Its
harm, he feels comes in that it "distracts young people from enjoying
the great outlet and enthusiasm and humor and warmth of real jazz,
which is what Benny Goodman played and Louis Armstrong played, and
Billie Holiday sang. Progressive jazz has instilled in the minds of a
lot of youngsters the idea that oldtime jazz—as they think of it—is
corny. It is not any more corny than the Constitution is corny, just
because it was written many years ago." Asked to name the jazz classics
which are his all-time favorites, Ford says. "That's difficult.
Certainly I couldn't name them all—it would be quite a list—but I
should certainly include 'Buddy Bolden's Blues,' by Jelly Roll Morton,
'Rock Island Line,' by Leadbelly, 'God Bless the Child,' by Billie
Holiday. There are more of course, but those are important ones."
Sincerity and reality are the tests, he believes. "No successful jazz
tune could live any time with phony, trick kind of lyrics. Jazz lyrics
are based on the topics close to the musicians—poverty, unrequited
"You can't grind out jazz,
at least not the kind of jazz I stand for. That must be a spontaneous
expression, to exist at all. Only the briefest melodic form is used.
From there on, it is up to the musician. The musician has it, feels it
in his heart, or it doesn't exist. You can manufacture dance music or
cool jazz, but you can't turn Dixie on and off. It must be inspired."
It's an inspiration which Art Ford thinks young people understand.
"Musicians of all ages are playing jazz. The youngest we have used was
a ten-year-old drummer whom Woody Herman recommended to us, and he was
just great. I think musical education is important because music is one
of the best therapeutic outlets kids have in a troubled time when they
need such outlets very badly. This jazz renaissance is on its way
because we all have need for the kind of music we can feel united in
defender of rock 'n' roll says the name for it may change—but the
one-two rhythm will continue to set feet dancing
big beat is here to stay for at least another five years, says Alan
Freed. He dismisses reports of its early demise as just plain wishful
thinking on the part of some who would like to see the trend change.
"Remember when they said Calypso would push rock 'n' roll right off the
charts? It turned out, you will recall, that it wasn't Calypso that was
hot, it was one man, Harry Belafonte, who sang songs people wanted to
hear. A few others rode along on his wave. Then there was talk about
the hula and the cha-cha. Sure, they were interesting. They provided
variety. But you couldn't call them a trend. They vanished very fast."
Taking issue with Art Ford, outspoken Freed says, "I'm glad to see that
jazz is in such a healthy state. I enjoy it, too, but I can't see it
taking over. It's music for older people. And the fact remains, they
don't make the hits. The hit trend in music is set by the teenagers.
They buy the current records and they want a strong, happy beat to
dance to. That's natural."
anticipates some change in terminology. "Kids are inventive. As soon as
the name 'rock 'n' roll' begins to sound like an archeological label to
the crop of kids just turned thirteen, they'll find something new to
call it. But I can't find anything in sight to challenge the big beat
itself." He ticks off his reasons: "First, the one-two beat is basic.
Second,, it has already proved it can grow and change without losing
its identity. Third, it has given youth a chance to write music as well
as perform. With a life and a career ahead of them, these kids will be
around a long time." Discussing Topic One, Freed says, "It is basic
because the first rhythm a child learns to recognize is the one-two
beat of his own heart. That is followed by the one-two of his own steps
as he learns to walk. His first poems and prayers rhyme the first line
with the second. Musically, there has always been some manifestation of
the rhythm. With one expression of it, John Philip Sousa became the
march king; with another, Al Jolson, Harry Richman and Eddie Cantor
gained fame. Whenever it recurs in popularity, it stirs up the
country." Freed can trace the big beat's ability to change and grow in
terms of his own life and musical experience.
October 15, 1922, in Youngstown, Ohio, he was an infant in that crucial
year of jazz, 1924. It was then that Paul Whiteman "made a lady of
jazz" by staging a concert in "symphonic syncopation" at New York's
stately Aeolian Hall and commissioned George Gershwin to write
"Rhapsody in Blue." His use
of classic music
technique to smooth down the rough edges of jazz set the direction
toward learned, cool, progressive jazz and also predicated the big
swing era of the Thirties. Young Alan Freed, growing up at Salem, Ohio,
began studying the trombone at twelve and, at thirteen, burned with
ambition to play in the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. Then he heard
Benny Goodman and it changed his career and his life.
fifteen, I turned a deaf ear to everything but swing." He took his
Goodman records with him to college and swiftly became the least
popular freshman. "My fraternity brothers were Wayne King fans. They
complained about my raucous noise." His education in the classics
brought him his first disc-jockey show at WKST, Newcastle. But, by
auditioning new records sent to the station, he found out what was
happening in that other branch of jazz, the phase that had not "become
a lady." In that field, the strong, primitive, original one-two beat
had refused to be downed by sophistication. The spirituals, the work
songs, the wild shouters, the frantic, moaning blues found their outlet
in numbers recorded by little groups for off-beat record companies.
Sold primarily to the Negro market, they were called "race" records. It
wasn't until they began to sneak into the catalogues of big
record companies that they were dignified as "rhythm and
such records sent to the station, Alan listened with fascination. He
remembered songs he had heard in childhood. His mother's brothers had
once been members of a blackface minstrel troupe and, when they came to
visit, the family gathered 'round the piano and staged a show of its
own, telling "Mr. Bones" jokes and singing deep-South songs. Alan says,
"Those records prompted me to some jazz research. I particularly liked
the old Bessie Smith records. By the time I moved to Cleveland in 1949,
I was a confirmed rhythm and blues fan." With a pop music disc jockey
show to program, Alan began to slip in an occasional rhythm and blues
number. "Perhaps one in every twenty records." He had no thought of
increasing the ratio until Leo Mintz, owner of the Record Rendezvous,
offered to sponsor his show if Alan would play nothing but rhythm and
blues records. Alan was flabbergasted. "Are you crazy?" he demanded.
"No one would listen. Those are race records." "Not any more, they
aren't," said Mintz. "I've been watching my customers. I know who buys
them." Alan launched the show and shortly thereafter stumbled into
evidence of the explosive power of rhythm and blues.
October, 1952, he thought it would be nice to get his listeners
together for a dance. He rented the 10,000 capacity Cleveland Arena and
worried whether he could draw a crowd large enough to pay expenses.
"Then," he says, "the lid blew off" An estimated 30,000 fans aimed for
the hall. Caught completely by surprise, the police fought to break up
the traffic jam and control the crowd. The dance had to be called off
and much civic commotion followed. In some circles, he was rated akin
to a public enemy, but to the kids, he was a new hero who shared the
music they liked.
His popularity brought
him New York offers and Freed went to WINS. His success led to star
roles in rock 'n' roll movies and to world-wide popularity. R&R
shows he has headed have set new house records at the New York
Paramount and other theaters. Last summer, he moved to radio station
WABC and also started a new television show on WABD. In October, he
plans to tour Great Britain. With this personal perspective, Freed can
point out changes he has observed in rock 'n' roll. "The first records
gained popularity because they were wild, exciting, different from the
pop tunes which hadn't changed much since the Thirties. Some were
composed by people with very little musical knowledge and necessarily,
it was a primitive expression." But it was vital and strong. It shook
up the music business like a tornado roaring out of the Panhandle."
then, rock 'n' roll has both absorbed from other types of music and has
influenced them. "Look at the way it has changed country and Western,"
says Alan. "It's not the old hillbilly whine of yesterday. Today, it is
a different kind of tune." In the popular music field the interchange
has been constant. "Rock 'n' roll began benefiting from the pops when
artists and repertoire men began giving its recording the same kind of
care. Arrangements are prettier today and the sound is better," says
Alan. In turn, it has influenced pops. "Almost all the long established
artists have recorded rock 'n' roll tunes, adapting them to their own
characteristic style. This, I think, has helped produce the current
phase of ballads, but you'll notice they are ballads with a beat. This
big beat is versatile. It can be applied to almost anything."
musical value of rock 'n' roll has improved as more people with talent
and training grew interested in it. "We're getting better writers and
new good writers are developing within the field. Fats Domino is a good
writer. So are the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly." The big beat's
best life insurance is the extreme youth of its song writers and
performers, Freed believes. "If ever there was a youth revolution, this
is it," he points out. "Tin Pan Alley lost its monopoly. Kids who never
even heard of the Brill building have written their own tunes, recorded
them themselves and turned them into hits. Some are no older than their
audience. To cite two extreme instances, Laurie London is thirteen;
Paul Anka, seventeen. There must be hundreds in their teens and many
more who have just turned twenty." Such kids may not be able to turn
out high-polished lyrics, but Freed respects their gift for musical
reporting. "They write about things which go on around them. They've
killed off the trite June moon- spoon croon by topical things like
'Wake Up, Little Susie,' and 'No Chemise Please.' I find them
refreshing. They should continue to produce interesting popular music."
He also sees the possibility of some
serious composers arising from these ranks. "While it is true that some
of the kids can't read a note, we should remember that there are others
who already have a good musical education. They're young, they're
intelligent. They will continue to learn and develop. They have a drive
and a will to succeed. Why shouldn't they later write more learned
music? It happened with jazz. Certainly it can also happen with young
people now producing rock 'n' roll."
stated his case for the big beat, Alan also had a word for its critics
and his own. "All this business about rock 'n' roll producing juvenile
delinquency is just so much hogwash. Juvenile delinquency begins in the
home, not in a piece of music. If I didn't believe this was good,
wholesome music, I wouldn't play it. I've got four kids of my own. I'm
concerned about what happens to them, and also what happens to other
kids." Remarking that jazz addicts have been among those most scornful
of rock 'n' roll, he remarks, "They should remember that all the things
now said about rock 'n' roll were once said about jazz. The difference
in social acceptability between rock 'n' roll and jazz is a mere matter
of thirty years."
The Big Sound for 1959
Jazz or The Big Beat?
By Helen Bolstad
the winter season I had numerous calls to play on the violin. Wherever
the young people assembled to dance, I was almost invariably there.
Throughout the surrounding villages my fiddle was notorious. Anne,
also, during her long residence at the Eagle Tavern, had become
somewhat famous as a cook. During court weeks, and on public occasions,
she was employed at high wages in the kitchen at Sherrill's Coffee
We always returned home from the
performance of these services with money in our pockets; so that, with
fiddling, cooking, and farming, we soon found ourselves in the
possession of abundance, and, in fact leading a happy and prosperous
life. Well, indeed, would it have been for us had we remained on the
farm at Kingsbury; but the time came when the next step was to be taken
towards the cruel destiny that awaited me." ~ Solomon Northup, "Twelve
Years a Slave" (1853). Click
here to download the book for free (PDF).
Brenda Lee is one of the tiniest girls in show
business. She stands less than five feet tall and weighs less than a
hundred pounds. It is a hundred pounds of sheer energy. When Brenda
throws her whole being into a song, she can belt out a phrase that will
bounce off the back wall of the biggest of auditoriums without benefit
of microphone, if she so chooses. But when so much power is compressed
into so small a package, something's got to give—and often, it is
Brenda's clothes. She has shed shoes on some of the world's best
stages. When she starts stamping out the beat, a steel-shanked spike
heel can break off like a match stick. For that emergency. Brenda has
found a solution: "I just kick off the other shoe and finish my song
Her real problem is to find stage gowns which
are pretty and dainty as lace, yet strong as denim. A dress which is
perfectly fitted for Brenda—when she is standing still—isn't big enough
to hold her voice when she takes a deep breath and starts belting.
Seams split, fabric tears. Her manager. Dub Allbritten. tells how
Brenda almost did an involuntary strip-tease at Chapel Hill. North
Carolina: ''The crowd was big and enthusiastic. Brenda was enjoying the
show as much as they were, and she really sang out. Then, long before
the end of the song. I saw her start carefully backing offstage. From
the wings, I could see that the whole zipper had popped open along the
back of her dress. We pinned her up as well as we could and she took
her bow, then did a quick change. We can laugh about it now. but we
didn't dare to then. Brenda was embarrassed to tears."
misadventures can upset Brenda, for she has been on stage most of her
young life. The daughter of Ruben and Grace Tarpley. she was born
December 11, 1944, at Atlanta, Georgia. After her father was killed in
an industrial accident, her mother moved to Nashville. Before Brenda
was into her teens, she was singing on radio and TV shows. The big
voice has brought big success. She celebrated the completion of her
first motion picture. "Two Little Bears" (20th Century-Fox), by touring
Alaska. Dub says, "To make the swing around Fairbanks. Juneau.
Anchorage and a couple of Army bases, we traveled by airplane,
seaplane, bus and car. But Brenda got her biggest thrill when the
Chamber of Commerce at Anchorage met her with a dog sled for a parade
down the main street." Far south, too, her reception was hectic. At
Sydney. Australia, fans mobbed her at the airport and newspapers
reported she was one of the few girl singers ever to please the crowds.
At both ends of the earth, she acquired furs. In Alaska, her admirers
gave her a parka—Brenda's first fur coat. In Australia, they gave her a
toy koala bear and a kangaroo, both made of the natural hides. The bear
and kangaroo bring Brenda's total collection of stuffed animals to 160.
They are her souvenirs from about 250.000 miles of travel during the
past year, and from earlier tours which have taken her to Europe, South
America and virtually every large city in the United States.
decorating her room, at the Nashville house she shares with her mother
and a younger sister and brother, is a collection of comic postcards,
all signed with that much-wanted autograph. "Fabian." The two young
singers became friends while on the same tour and. wherever they are,
they keep in touch. Brenda says, "I always try to find a funny card to
send Fabian, then he looks for a funnier one to send me."
fall entertainment season opens, Brenda has another crowded schedule.
She may again tour Europe, she is booked for television shows, and a
new motion picture will soon go into production. Since so much of her
time is now being spent on the West Coast, she is registered at
Hollywood Professional School, attending classes while there and
studying by correspondence when she is on the road. She loves history,
hates arithmetic. With stardom crowding in on her, the title of
Brenda's new Decca album seems prophetic. It's called, "All the Way."
TV Radio Mirror
late June of 1957, Variety, the bible of show biz, filed a prophetic
bit of copy about Jimmy Dean. "Dean is a potential piece of
entertainment TNT — he can explode into a top name at just about any
time." The explosion came with a bang almost exactly one year later,
when the CBS network signed Jimmy to a long-term exclusive
contract—then plunged into active plans for his Monday-through-Friday
daytime show on CBS-TV, now being planned as a general variety
divertissement for viewers who yearn for relaxation in the early
afternoon. Just turned twenty-nine, Jimmy takes this remarkable career
jump with a charming "gee-whiz" attitude. Asked point-blank why he
figured the CBS people considered him as a potentially hot TV host and
performer, he said, "Gosh! I never thought about it." Jimmy himself is
the first to admit that, though he records as a singer for Columbia
Records, his voice is no super-smash and, while he plays piano and
accordion, plus some fiddle and guitar, he never expects to be a really
One thing Jimmy Dean does have, in
double-barrel volume, and that's a relaxed, natural charm. This quality
of niceness is comparable to Garry Moore's "lovable" quality. Both men
are capable, seemingly with no effort at all, of projecting character
out of the TV screen and making the viewer say, "I like that man." To
an objective observer, Jimmy Dean is indeed—because of this golden
natural asset— a package of entertainment TNT.
Dean's life started out on a farm near Plainview, Texas, with a
music-loving family whose greatest pleasure was to sing hymns together.
His mother had learned (via a correspondence course) to play the piano,
and hiked Jimmy onto the piano stool when he was about ten to learn
piano, too. A natural music talent soon emerged, and Jimmy mastered
piano, accordion, guitar, and fiddle—meantime singing up a storm with
gospel tunes and the region's country and Western songs.
1946, when he was 18, Jimmy joined the Air Corps, spent part of his
service days at Boiling Field. While there, he and some Army buddies
formed a combo and played local spots for $5 a night, plus tips. After
discharge in 1949, Jimmy and his friends moved into Washington and
tried to make a go of it as performers. Some pretty grim days followed,
until the group was spotted by Connie B. Gay, country-and-Western
impresario, and signed for several tours out of the country to
entertain American troops. Gay also booked the group frequently on Town
And Country Jamboree. A kinescope of their performance was shown to CBS
executives by Gay, and the group was signed to do an early-morning spot
out of Washington on the network. At this point a miracle occurred. The
show began to draw 25,000 letters each week from avid viewers, and the
CBS network found itself topping the NBC competition, Today, on the
Somewhat confounded by their own success, CBS decided
to see whether the Dean group would succeed in a night-time spot.
During June, 1957, Dean's show went on Saturday nights as a summer
replacement. When September came around, the network switched the
successful Dean show to an hour-long Saturday spot,with Jimmy lending
his easy, relaxed talent to the hosting duties. Ad-lib humorous "talk"
was the keynote of Jimmy's show, backed with a talented group of
singers and instrumentalists. Now Jimmy's no longer a "country boy,"
but soon to be a full-time star, throughout the workday week, in a new
variety format beamed coast-to-coast over the CBS-TV network. Our TNT
boy from Texas has really struck it big in bigtime television!
TV Radio Mirror
HURT: THE BIGGEST TRUMPET IN THE LAND
of the biggest products to emerge from New Orleans in years — in both
size and stature—is a bearded 300-pound, six-foot-plus trumpet player.
Al Hirt, who is 38, has been playing the trumpet since the age of six,
but he broke into the big-time only last fall, as a result of a stand
at the Dunes in Las Vegas. Dinah Shore caught one of his performances,
booked him on her TV program, and he was on his way. Seldom has a
musician captured the public's fancy as rapidly as Al. He's set for a
minimum of ten dates with Dinah next season, plus appearances on the
Bell Telephone Hour, The Roaring 20's, and other TV shows, and he's
also lined up for a movie role. He's booked for the leading night clubs
throughout the country, and his records have been consistent
best-sellers for RCA Victor. His latest album is "Al ('He's the King')
Hirt," recorded with his own Dixieland group. One of the big reasons
for Al's success is that he's a personality, as well as a musician. He
believes in showmanship. Says he, "A lot of jazzmen play with the
attitude that the audience can't possibly dig them, and they refuse to
bend even a little bit. That hurts not only those jazzmen but jazz
Al laughs when he hears himself referred to as an
"overnight" success. "I'm playing the same way now as I've played for
years, but the public didn't know of me until Dinah Shore put me on
television." Hirt attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music from
1939 to 1941, when he began a four-year stint in the Army. Following
his discharge as a sergeant, he began traveling with bands, including
those of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Ray McKinley, Tony Pastor and Horace
Heidt. Then, tired of the steady grind of one-nighters, Al returned
home to New Orleans, where he blew his horn in comparative anonymity
for fifteen years. Although he had numerous offers, Al was content to
stay at home with his wife, Mary, and their children—the latter add up
to eight. When he finally did accept an out-of-town engagement. in Las
Vegas, another chapter of showbusiness history was written. Al grew his
beard four years ago, as a gimmick for the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
"All the boys in my band grew them. We had some sheik outfits and
thought a beard would go with them. I haven't cut mine off because —
well, I dig it—and because it's become a trademark. People say, I don't
remember his name, but it was the fat guy with the beard.'"
he and Louis Armstrong are undoubtedly the best-known jazz trumpet
players in the country today, Al doesn't like to be labeled as a
Dixieland musician. "I was influenced by Dixieland, but I want to go on
from there. We do a lot of Dixie things because it establishes a quick
rapport with the audience. Then when they like me, I'm able to convey
some jazz messages I couldn't have attempted at the start." Thanks to
his conservatory training, Hirt is able to blow the roof off a night
club one night and sit in with a classical orchestra the next. He has
frequently appeared with the New Orleans Symphony. Understandably, Al's
bulk is a ready subject for humor. When Archie Moore, the foxy boxer,
offered Hirt his famed reducing formula, Al replied: "Will it help me
lose an acre?" Diets are not foreign to Al. However, he is something
like the man who claimed it was easy to give up smoking ("I know it's
easy, because I give up smoking every day"). Al enjoys food, both as a
consumer and as a chef. New Orleans is noted for its gourmets, and Al
is one of that city's finest. Surprisingly, perhaps, he is also
athletically inclined. "The kids and I play around with soccer,
basketball, football, baseball and other games, both around and in our
home. You visit us, and you come prepared for action." He admits he was
"flabbergasted" when movie offers came his way. "I had no eyes for
acting. But, if they want me to try, I'll be very happy to make the
In Theatres and On iTunes in the US
9/27 from Magnolia Pictures
kid, at eighteen, cherishes a secret ambition to do something
terrific—something which instantaneously will assure his place in the
elusive adult world. Should he voice that dream, however, he swiftly
hears the sound advice: "Don't fool yourself. There's no such thing as
overnight success. Things don't happen that way." . . . And yet—just
often enough to keep the dream alive—they do.
Three years ago,
Elvis Aron Presley, newly graduated from high school, jingling in his
jeans money which he had earned on the assembly line in an airplane
factory, walked into the Sun Record Company in Memphis Tennessee, paid
his fee and sang a song. "I didn't even know it was a record company,"
he says. "I thought it was just one of those stores you can make a
record in." The platter was to be his mother's birthday present.
at 21, that same Elvis Aron Presley, who has not yet had either a vocal
lesson or an acting lesson, holds impressive recording, motion picture
and personal appearance contracts. He also owns a dazzling wardrobe,
four Cadillacs, a Messerschmid sports car and the hottest
motorcycle money can buy. He shares his good fortune with his parents.
He has given them a $40,000 ranch house and has persuaded his father to
retire at the age of 39. He makes light of this largess by saying, "Why
should he work when I can make as much in a day as he used to in a
year? Besides, look at all they have done for me."
possession of the voice and style to match the mood of teenagers, who
come to a boil over rock 'n' roll, has made him the most-discussed
entertainer in America today. Even those critics who turned caustic
about his uninhibited gyrations in front of the TV camera must concede
his remarkable accomplishment in simultaneously putting—not one—but
four records on Variety's scoreboard of top talent and tunes:
"Heartbreak Hotel," "Blue Suede Shoes," "I Was the One," and "I Want
You, I Need You."
While calling his style "animalistic" and
dubbing him "Pelvis Presley," those same acid commentators had to
acknowledge that, not since Frank Sinatra's debut, had anyone
approached Presley's direct communication with an audience. One even
admitted grudgingly, "Let's face it. He tops Sinatra. Everybody in show
business knows that Sinatra, right from the start, had the aid of one
of the best press agents. When bobbysoxers swooned in Times Square,
that response was 'hypoed.' This kid hasn't even got a press agent.
Sure, the publicity crew over at RCA Victor has done a good job putting
out stories, but don't forget they have a lot of other artists to
handle at the same time. And his managers have done fine with personal
appearances—but where has he played? In the sticks. He's done nine
network television shots, but he's not yet had a Broadway booking and
that's where the big press coverage starts. In other words, he's just a
little guy from the deep South who has set the fire all by himself. And
no one ever did that before. This kid's a natural."
has become a national legend, the person who appears to be least
impressed by this phenomenon is Presley. He regards himself as a
novice, eager to learn, to grow, to develop. Asked how he gets a hall
rocking, he replies, "I don't know, but I hope it never stops."
stage, he would rather sit around with people his own age than garner
more publicity by talking to interviewers. Some young relative or
long-time friend usually travels with him and his manager, Col. Tom
Parker, or Parker's associate, Tom Diskin. Elvis, in a hotel room, is
like a caged tiger, restless, distracted, eager to get out where people
are having fun. When a carnival or amusement park is within reach,
Elvis and friends prowl the midway, often to the distress of
concessionaires, who find Elvis has a deadly aim with a baseball and a
way of acquiring a large number of pandas and dolls.
engaged nor married, he has an eye for a pretty girl. When, during
rehearsal for the Milton Berle show, he learned it was a dancer's
birthday, he ordered a cake and candles and surprised her by leading
cast and crew in singing, "Happy birthday, dear Millie . .
neither drinks nor smokes, following precepts learned during childhood
in Tupelo, Mississippi. Born a twin, he came in for an extra measure of
devotion after his brother died at birth. His father was a truck driver
and, since both parents sang in the choir of the Pentacostal Assembly
Of God church, Elvis joined in, too. He loved the gospel songs, strong
in beat and exuberant in emotion.
When he was twelve, they moved
to Memphis, where his father worked in a paint factory. Elvis, a child
who had played alone in his own back yard, found it hard to make
friends. In L. C. Hume High School, he was no big wheel. "The girls
didn't go for me," he confesses. He went out for football and baseball
but was too slight in build to make the team in either case. He
appeared only twice in school entertainments.
At home, however,
it was a different story. On his thirteenth birthday, his parents gave
Elvis a twelve-dollar mail order guitar. While other kids swam, he sat
out in the back yard picking out tunes. Some were gospel songs, 'some
family ballads, some tunes he learned listening to phonograph records.
When kinfolk got together, Elvis suffered none of the shyness which
beset him with strangers. He sang out, as he does now, "just the way I
That's the way he sang on the record for his mother—the
record which changed his life. As he finished, the man at the controls
stepped out of the booth and asked if he were a professional singer, or
if he wanted to be.
Elvis thought this no time to speak of
dreams he had cherished while strumming his guitar. He laughed it off,
saying he didn't especially care. Today, he says, "Singing for a living
was the farthest thing from my mind. I just wanted to see what I
When the man took his name and address and said he
would call if something suitable came up, it became a nice story to
tell his mother, not anything to count on. Ambitious Elvis found a job
driving a truck for an electrical contractor and studied in night
school, preparing to become an electrician.
But the man didn't
forget. Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Record Company, called Elvis several
months later. "He had a song he wanted me to sing," says Elvis. "It was
a real slow-type ballad."
Phillips had a small combo back him —
guitar, string bass and drums. Elvis recalls: "We worked three, four
hours on that song and never did get it to perfection. Then we took a
break and I started kidding around with a tune I knew—'That's All
Right.' All my life I've heard stuff with a beat and I get a bang out
of it. That's what we finally recorded."
Effects were far
reaching. In Memphis, a disc jockey put it on the air. Elvis, afraid
his friends would rib him, hid out in a movie house. But, at the
station, the phone really started ringing: They had to repeat the
record seven times that evening.
Elvis Presley's days as an
apprentice electrician were almost over. With disc jockey Bob Neal as
his manager, he "barnstormed," learning in little shows how to charge a
crowd with a different sort of non-wired current. Sun, a small company,
sent records to other Southern stations and, everywhere the song was
heard, kids started digging it.
One person who heard it with
special interest was Steve Sholes, RCA Victor's country - and - Western
specialist. (See "Rock 'n' Roll," in this same issue.) Another was Col.
Tom Parker, booker of country-and-Western shows. Tom Diskin, Parker's
associate, tells their reaction:" In Texas, touring with a show, we
began hearing about this new singing sensation, Elvis Presley. We
thought it was one of those local-boy-makes-good things—but every disc
jockey we spoke to complained he had requests for only four records,
all of them by Presley."
They also discovered Elvis drew crowds.
"Fans can make requests," says Diskin, "but not until they buy records,
and turn out for personal appearances, is a star hot property."
first booked Elvis into other stars' tours as a supporting act. After
five performances, they put him on a tour of his own and discovered
they now needed to take precautions for his personal safety: "The kids
moved in on him. They didn't mean anything malicious, but they hit him
like a wave, grabbing and screaming. We had to put ropes around Elvis,"
Steve Sholes' and Presley's paths finally crossed
in Nashville, where Steve was recording a number of country-and-Western
performers. Presley, who by then had made Col. Parker his manager, was
on Grand Ole Opry. When, again, the kids went wild, RCA Victor entered
negotiations. As the deal was signed, Elvis was given a royalty of four
and one half cents on each 89-cent record. He also received $5,000
"spending money"—which he promptly plunked down for the first of his
Victor paid Sam Phillips $35,000 for Presley's
recording contract, together with the "masters" he had made for Sun— a
most unusual arrangement for Victor. They broke precedent again by
reissuing the entire group for national distribution.
was perfect. Man, mood and mass fused into an explosion. Teenagers,
with rock 'n' roll's tom-tom beat in their blood, had lost one hero
when Marlon Brando "graduated" into becoming a distinguished,
well-behaved actor. They lost another when Jimmy Dean died so
tragically. Now here was Elvis, looking like them both and throwing
himself around a tune in a way not previously seen on stage. The new
star was on his way.
As it chanced, RCA Victor's "perfect lady"
press agent, delicate Anne Fulchino, drew the assignment to cover
Presley's ensuing tour. She ticks off milestones of mounting hysteria:
"In Jacksonville, they tore off his coat and belt. In Charlotte, about.
300 broke through the police line and surged on stage. In the wings, we
all screamed at Elvis, 'Get off there!' He ran, but they ripped his
clothes. I remember the way he said, 'They even took the tassels off my
shoes.' He was like a child who had lost a toy."
By the time he
reached New York, the surge even struck RCA Victor stenographers, who
normally are immune, thanks to constant sight of top talent. To the
astonishment of their bosses, about twenty crashed his recording
New York, however, held more than clamoring fans for
Elvis. It was his first trip, a time when he discovered that show
business in the big town differs somewhat from the southern circuit.
Although able to cope with autograph hunters, the crowds in good
restaurants appalled him. Rather than wait for a table, he would bolt
to a side-street lunch counter for his favorite pork chops, potatoes
and gravy. People staring at his ear-muff-sized-sideburns posed a
problem. "You're a square if you don't wear them in the South," he
explained to Anne. (To compromise, he shaved them a quarter of an inch.)
brought a challenge on the Stage Show section of Jackie Gleason's big
Saturday-night hour. "Because Elvis sings the way he feels," says Anne,
"it used to take him several numbers to warm up—and just as long to
calm down. I've seen him call the trio around him and sing in the wings
until his tension eased off. He knew he would have no such leeway on
television and he was scared. We saw him sort of square off and hit it
on the first note. It was the first time he was able to turn on the
fervor just when he needed it."
Because he was exhausted by the
six Stage Show appearances with the Dorseys interspersed with trips
south for personal appearances, everyone worried when he boarded the
plane for Hollywood to take his screen test. Anne fussed: "Oh, Elvis,
you'll never be able to learn your script by tomorrow morning." When
they saw the film they were amazed. They couldn't believe the vital
person on screen was that same weary guy.
Charlotte Clary, who
directed the screen test for Paramount, supplies a close-up of what
happened: "Seeing him do his rock 'n' roll bit, we all fell on our
faces. But we really flipped when he did his two heavy dramatic scenes
from 'The Rainmaker.'"
She especially praised his
self-discipline: "He had to smoke a black cigar. Since Elvis never
touched tobacco, he got greener and greener. Yet he never broke, never
missed a line, did not ruin the take."
They saw his will power
again in his musical number: "He didn't have his own guitar. The one
our music department supplied had a broken string. He tuned it down and
used it like a drum. Then the pick flew out of his fingers. He went
right on. The string cut deep, and blood dripped, but he
They saw his will power again in his musical number:
"He didn't have his own guitar. The one our music department supplied
had a broken string. He tuned it down and used it like a drum. Then the
pick flew out of his fingers. He went right on. The strings cut deep,
and blood dripped, but he never stopped."
Elvis's only comment
on the test was: "I guess it was all right." He holds to his caution in
revealing his deepest dreams, but his intimates know he would rather be
an actor—a good actor—than anything else in the world. "It's an
obsession with him," says Tom Diskin.
His ability to grow and
develop is his best asset. If, as record sales now indicate, the rock
'n' roll cacophony is moving into a slower, more melodious form, Elvis
Presley is not likely to fall with the fad. His last session at RCA
Victor was a rugged four and a half hours—twenty-four takes. To make
the finished platter, they spliced numbers 17 and 24. The trouble was,
Presley didn't sound like Presley. His low notes were full and round.
Said the Victor people, "The guy is really learning to sing. He'll move
on into the popular music field. This fellow's got a big future."
The teenagers want Elvis Presley today. Experienced prophets in the
field are predicting that everyone will want him tomorrow!
TV Radio Mirror
Rock 'n' Roll
influence? A blessing to the young in heart? -
rock 'n' roll a wallop and a screech? A pulsating, demanding blitz
which splits the eardrums of the elders —while it becomes, for the
young and vulnerable, a flame-thrower of mass hysteria? A Satanic,
cannibalistic, evil "spiritual" which drives them to destruction,
violence, dope addiction, illicit sex? ... Or is it a happy treat for
the feet? A jive for the live? An exciting new rhythm which brings
teenagers more good, healthy dancing fun than they have had since
wars—and The Bomb—made youth a time of high tension, rather than of
As the big beat entered its third popular
year, the argument raged. Everyone seemed to have an opinion — usually
strong. To millions of well-behaved kids who just plain liked rock 'n'
roll, the charges could not help but be confusing. To the more
understanding of their elders, however, the uproar brought the feeling:
"This is where I came in." . . . For, whatever else it had done, rock
'n' roll clearly had won its place among this century's Pied Pipers of
music—the waltz, ragtime, jazz, swing, and their classic extension,
progressive jazz. People hear it and things happen. Certain of rock 'n'
roll's more drastic effects had become matters of public record. Most
distressing were the riots. Some doubtless had been caused simply
because too many rock 'n' roll enthusiasts tried to crowd into too
small a space. Disc jockey Alan Freed—and the Cleveland police—got the
shock of their lives from one of the first of these. When Alan, in
October, 1952, announced a dance at the 10,000-capacity Cleveland
Arena, nearly 30,000 excited fans aimed for the hall. Caught completely
by surprise, police nearly went crazy trying to unsort the traffic jam
and unscramble the screaming mob. The dance had to be called off and,
in furious headlines, newspapers denounced Freed as some new sort of
public enemy oniy slightly less sinister than Al Capone. Other cities,
other disc jockeys, have since seen similar clamorous convocations.
too, have drawn editorial and official wrath. In New York, certain
newspapers asserted that juvenile miscreants who nearly dismantled a
subway train lost their inhibitions in the excitement of the Freed show
at the Brooklyn Paramount.... In Hartford, Connecticut, where the State
Theater started rock 'n' roll shows last fall, arrests totalled 26 by
April—and police instituted action to revoke the theater's license,
claiming public safety was endangered. City officials sidestepped
punitive action when the manager raised the touchy censorship issue,
but a family-relations expert made a scathing denouncement. Dr. Francis
J. Braceland, psychiatrist-in-charge of the city's Institute of Family
Living, termed rock 'n' roll "a communicable disease" and castigated it
as "a cannibalistic and tribalistic form of music . . . which appeals
to adolescent rebellion and insecurity."
Disc jockeys who take
rock 'n' roll as a, fast pass to a high rating drew a rebuke from one
of their own fraternity, veteran Fred Robbins: "Too many disc jockeys
are failing to live up to the imraortance of their jobs." He blamed
them for a ereat part of "the rock 'n' roll scourge," calling it
"musical junk ... a mere perversion of rhythm-and-blues."
of the most outraged protests came from serious, learned students of
jazz who felt it was a step backward. Leonard Feather—who conducts the
quiz, Platterbrains, on ABC Radio, and whose "Encyclopedia Year Book of
Jazz" is just being released—stated: "Rock 'n' roll bears the same
relationship to jazz that wrestling does to boxing. Jazz is an art
form. Rock 'n' roll is a phony. It appeals to morons of all ages, but
particularly to young morons. It is unfortunate that so many good
musicians must play out of tune to make a living."
usual, there were the irresponsible persons who found it a convenient
label to slap on any youth problem. Any hoodlum, j.g., could get his
name in the papers by saying, on apprehension for a crime, that
got him gassed up for the action. Any prophet of doom could catch a
headline by asserting that here was a drum beat of delinquency—that, in
rock 'n' roll, an increasing clan of Wild Ones had found a national
For rock 'n' roll was news. Yet, in the face of such
clamor, it rolled on. It also showed signs of growing up. Well-regarded
radio and television shows programmed it. Networks continued their
existing shows and scheduled new ones. It even became a propaganda
weapon when Radio Luxemburg, the most powerful of Radio Free Europe
stations, broadcast an Alan Freed rock 'n' roll party on Saturday
Where then does this controversial big beat belong?
Where did it come from? Where is it heading? What gives it appeal? Does
it rate approval?
One of the entertainment greats who has
participated in the Twentieth Century's entire cavalcade of music gave
his verdict on Johnny Andrews' National Radio Fan Club, over NBC.
Irving Berlin, celebrating his sixty-eighth birthday, remarked, "I wish
I had thought of "The Rock and Roll Waltz.'
Another ready to
speak up in its defense was the ever-contemporary Paul Whiteman. On his
fiftieth anniversary in show business, the beloved "Pops" hosts The
Best Bands In The Land, over ABC Radio. He also, at this writing, had a
notion he might join forces with Alan Freed to put on some outdoor rock
roll shows in New Jersey.
At mention of rock 'n' roll,
Whiteman's triple chins bobbed in approval. "It's a simple beat, and
certainly not new, but I think it is good. To be good, music has to
provoke an involuntary muscular reaction from the listeners. Rock 'n'
roll sure provokes plenty. Kids are full of steam. Steam can run an
engine or bust a boiler. It's good to see them dancing again."
Whiteman, perhaps better than anyone else, could understand how youth
hears a sound and a rhythm, takes it to itself and holds it almost as a
secret from the older generation—for such hearing shaped his own life.
As much as one person can, he personifies the rhythm of this century.
waltz, which at its introduction in Europe was called "the wickedest
dance," had reached respectable popularity when Paul Whiteman—son of
Wilburforce James Whiteman, superintendent of music in Denver public
schools—put on his first pair of long pants in 1906, to plav viola with
the Denver symphony orchestra. In 1907, "The Merry Widow Waltz" was the
top hit . . . but, while the elegant glided across polished ballroom
floors, that noisy upstart—ragtime—was gathering her forces to crash
Ragtime was a strictly American meld. To the
story-telling ballads of the prairiecrossing pioneers, it added a bit
of the excitement of the Sousa bands—plus the Southern accent and
exuberance of the minstrel men-—and mixed them up in an irresistible
rhythm all its own. ... In 1911, ragtime found its drum major. A young
songsmith named Irving Berlin wrote "Alexander's Ragtime Band," and
followed it, a year later, with "Everybody's Doing It."
the vanguard, playing violin for the Turkey Trot—a dance as jumpy as a
hand-cranked silent movie—was 21- year-old Paul Whiteman. Arguments
with his music-master father about ragtimeversus- classics had reached
such a pitch that Paul borrowed $500 from his mother and lit out for
San Francisco's Barbary Coast . . . where, in his words, "I found guys
who could teach me to play the stuff."
Ragtime was raucous, and
music, to stir the emotions, must have soul as well as body. W. C.
Handy introduced a yearning, with "Memphis Blues" in 1912 and "St.
Louis Blues" in 1914. The sound was changing, and usually it was the
itinerant Negro musician—who had learned his trade in New Orleans—who
carried it across the country. Most of them played by ear.
Whiteman, in talking to this reporter, once made the modest claim:
"Maybe the best thing I ever did was to help start writing down this
music. Trouble was, in the beginning, it was entirely spontaneous. A
guy, unable to read a note, and with no score to prompt him, might be
hot one night, dull the next. All he could do was try to remember how
to play it."
The new music didn't really have a name. "Ragtime"
no longer fit. "Syncopation" indicated that the accent had shifted to
usually unaccented beats, but that word was too much of a mouthful.
"Jazz" was still a dirty word . . . when printed at all, it turned up
on off-brand records spelled "jass" or "jaz." . . . But it was a sound,
it was a beat. And, after World War I, the kids—hearing King Oliver,
Louis Armstrong and other great Dixielanders—were in no mood to be
persnickety. They added a final "z" and that was it.
already had a good name for their favorite dance. The Turkey Trot's
successor, invented by a musical comedy juvenile, was first called "Mr.
Fox's Trot." But, by 1920, Mr. Fox was forgotten and "jazz" and the
"foxtrot" matched up. When, in 1925 the foot-flying
and the slithering Black Bottom came along, "flaming youth" had found
its sound and fury. The sheik and the flapper were kicking up their
heels. . . . Comparing the resulting uproar with what rock 'n' roll
gets today, Pops Whiteman says, "This ain't nothin'. We were crazier.
Movie stars like Mary Pickford and my wife (Margaret Livingstone) were
forever waggling their knees in Charleston contests. Newspapers were
screaming and everybody was having a time."
It is now apparent
that—in the midst of that age of bathtub gin, bell-bottomed pants,
bobbed-off skirts, rolled stockings and coonskin coats—modern music
reached a crossroads and branched into two factions which foreshadowed
both progressive jazz and rock 'n' roll. . . . Whiteman set the
direction toward progressive jazz with what he called "symphonic
syncopation." In 1924, he commissioned George Gershwin to write "The
Rhapsody in Blue" and played it to climax the first jazz concert in New
York's dignified Aeolian Hall. The historians say, "Whiteman made a
lady out of jazz."
Listeners, as well as professional musicians,
contributed to the advance toward more learned popular music. Public
school classes, radio and the movies raised the level of music
education. As extemporaneous jazz was compressed into the more
formalized swing of the Thirties, the kids greeted it with wild
enthusiasm. They danced in the aisles when they heard Benny Goodman's
Benny Goodman's wonderful clarinet. Today's
young people who hear and love the intricate counterpoint of Stan
Kenton, the Sauter-Finnegan orchestra and others, have carried this
even further. So learned an authority as Frederick E.
president of one of America's oldest schools, The Brooklyn Conservatory
of Music, calls progressive jazz, "classical music in the modern idiom"
. . . and adds, "It displays the greatest imagination and requires the
greatest technique from both the composer and the musician." And Dr.
Bergbrede also had praise of that other branch of jazz which developed
into rock 'n' roll. "It's a healthy rhythm. People need that kind of
The popularization of the big beat was a
development to be expected, for rhythm is the original source of
communication in music. As Count Basie—who is heard with Alan Freed on
CBS Radio's Saturday-night Rock 'N' Roll Dance Party— says, "You go too
far out with jazz and it gets too cool, you gotta come back."
'n' roll, according to some of the experts, has always been with us. It
is basic American music, made up of contributions from people from all
of the countries, mixed—or mixing—into its present form. Alan Freed
thinks that "Yankee Doodle" may have been America's first spectacular
rock 'n' roll tune. "The Colonial kids were sore because the British
troops had been quartered in their homes. They couldn't protest any
other way, so they took an old English tune—some people trace it to the
time of Cromwell— made up new words for it, changed the beat and ganged
up to sing it and torment the Redcoats."
Whiteman remembers when
he first heard rock 'n' roll in Birmingham, Alabama: "It was just after
the first World War, and Octavus Roy Cohen and I were walking around.
He wrote Negro stories and was a pretty good student of all phases of
the life in the Negro community. We stopped in at a Holy Roller meeting
to hear the religious shouting during the relaxing hour.' That was
rhythm, all right! They sure got the message. Of course, the Negroes
weren't the only ones. There was that fellow Roedehever, who played
trombone for the evangelist, Billy Sunday. Do you know he had fans
swarming around him worse than the kids gather around Elvis Presley
The traditional "religious shouting" and jazz blended in
an occasional off-brand disc during the early days of the recording
industry. Then, in 1922, came the welldefined drive to reach the Negro
market with so-called "race" records. Chicago's top Dixielander, King
Oliver, took his band, which included Louis Armstrong, to Richmond,
Indiana, to record a series for the Gennett company. In New York, about
the same time, Fletcher Henderson and Bessie Smith were also aiming at
that trade. Some of those platters have since become jazz classics—and,
even when they were made, they sold outside their intended limited
market. . . . "People can fuss about what Variety calls the 'leerics'
of rock 'n' roll," Whiteman comments, "but then, if you thought a
Bessie Smith record was too 'blue' for the kids to hear, you hid it
away. But, if you liked jazz, you bought it."
Through the years,
many small companies have continued to press the shouting records. They
also found hillbilly records profitable. This strong, basic rhythm was
popularized by many radio shows. When the giants of the recording
industry added them to their catalogues, they aimed for greater dignity
by calling the race records "rhythm-and-blues" and the hillbilly,
The two styles began to merge as early as
1938. Steve Sholes, head of RCA Victor's country-and-Western
department—the man who persuaded that company to bet big money on Elvis
Presley—traces their bid for wider popularity: "In swing, there was
plenty of beat. The kids could dance to bands such as Artie Shaw's,
Glen Miller's, Tommy Dorsey's. Then, during the war—because big
companies had big investments in big stars, and the amount of shellac
was limited—we went into an era of singers. The rhythm-and blues and
the country-and-Western departments were neglected."
It left the
field wide open for the smaller outfits . . . and it also gave them a
brand new buying public. "From the big companies," says Sholes, "the
kids were getting nothing to jitter to, so they went out and found it."
Among the race records which pleased them were those of Roosevelt Sykes
and The Cats and Fiddle. "They had that hand-clappin' sort of beat, a
rough form of rock 'n' roll," Sholes observes.
less sophisticated forms of music has taken Sholes into many a remote
area. He heard the beat again in Texas: "One of our hillbilly stars
called it to my attention. He said that, whenever he had some of the
younger Western singers in his car and was driving cross-country, they
never let him keep the radio on the regular hillbilly programs. They
hunted for disc shows which featured what they called 'cat' records."
listened, too—and, when he heard one by a singer named Elvis Presley,
he began, for reasons of his own, to track him down: "There he was,
using the exact same words as Big Boy Crudup, in a Crudup song, in the
Crudup way. Now, I had recorded Big Boy down on a little farm in the
back stretches of Mississippi, and I knew this had never been written.
Big Boy could neither read nor write—he could just sing up a storm. So,
when I heard this kid singing like him, I wanted to know how come."
Sholes' trail led to Sun Record Company in Memphis, to Sam Phillips,
Presley's discoverer, and eventually to Presley himself. "Sure enough,"
says Sholes, "he told me they'd had an old Crudup record in his family.
He had sung along with it and learned it by heart."
It was more
than a good imitation. "Elvis had something of his own," Sholes says.
"The way he sang the beat made me go back to RCA Victor and recommend
that we try to buy his contract from Phillips. It was a risky thing,
you know. He might be great in the sticks, but would the rest of the
country like him? Would we get our money back? In the office, we talked
it over and the rest of the guys decided to go along on my say-so."
Freed's rise to national attention also held an element of chance. Born
in Salem, Ohio—pop. 10,000—he learned his music at the family piano.
Every Sunday night, they had a songfest and the high point came during
visits of his mother's brothers, who had been minstrel men. "Some of
their style must have rubbed off on me," says Alan. Classics, however,
were his first love. "At thirteen, I wanted to play trombone in a
Symphony. But, at fifteen, I turned a deaf ear to everything but swing.
Benny Goodman was my hero."
His knowledge of classics gave him
his first disc-jockey show on a small station. But, because he also
liked Bessie Smith records, he started to do some jazz research. By the
time he arrived at a Cleveland station in 1949, he was a rhythm and
blues fan. "I enjoyed those off-brand records which came into the
station, so I took to slipping them into my pop music shows. Perhaps
one in each twenty records I played was a rhythm-and-blues."
had no thought of specializing—until Leo Mintz, owner of The Record
Rendezvous, came to him and said, "I'll buy you a radio show if you'll
play nothing but rhythm-and-blues." Freed said, "Are you crazy? Not
enough people would listen. Those are race records."
more, they aren't," said Mintz. "I've been watching my customers."
Freed launched the show, soon knew from requests that he had listeners,
and adds wryly, "I thought it would be nice to get them together for a
dance. I worried whether there would be enough people to pay expenses
for a big place like the Arena. And then the fid blew off."
waves generated by those 30,000 clamoring rock 'n' roll fans reached
New York, and stations began bidding for Freed. He settled for disc
shows on WINS, tapes them for release in Baltimore, St. Louis and
Kansas City, and goes "live" on the CBS Radio Rock 'N' Roll Dance Party.
week-long engagement at the Brooklyn Paramount attracted 97,000 people.
There were no disorders. Says theater manager Gene Pleshett: "We let
the kids know we expected them to behave, and we had plenty of help to
keep the situation under control. A few kids — maybe twenty out of the
97,000 total—got to be a nuisance to those sitting near them, so we
took them out and gave them their money back. About half of those
returned to apologize and beg to be re-admitted to the theater. I
worked at the Paramount on Broadway during both the Benny Goodman and
the first Sinatra engagements, and they were wilder.
subway train that got torn up . . . how do we know whether those kids
were in the theater? Or, if they were, how they acted in other
situations? We had no malicious damage here. When the kids got excited,
they did bounce up and down pretty hard, so now we've got some seats
out, having the springs replaced. But that's only normal wear and tear."
the lack of serious commotion surprised everyone—for, when the Feld
Brothers' "Biggest Rock 'n' Roll Show of 1956"—headlining Bill Haley
and His Comets—packed 5,500 young people into the 4,400-seat Warner
Theater in Atlantic City, Variety headlined, "Rock 'N' Roll Makes News:
One who was not surprised was Ted Steele,
whose Bandstand on WOR-TV, in New York, brings high-school students to
the studio for a daily dancing party. Said Ted, "We've been playing
rock 'n' roll since it first reached the hit list and we've had no
problem. In fact, we're crazy about it, for all of a sudden we noticed
the kids, instead of just shuffling around, were learning to dance
The Arthur Murrays are so enthusiastic about rock 'n'
roll that they devoted an entire television program to demonstrating
steps. "We're all for it," says Mrs. Murray. "Arthur thinks it
indicates that world tensions are easing up. Kids dare be kids again,
with more playful, jollier dances than we've been seeing." She herself
found it a welcome contrast to the sultry, slow-moving "hugging" dances
which she thinks too potent in arousing emotions. "Kids who monkey
around with such dangerous business can get carried away and ruin their
lives. We like energetic dances for teens. In rock 'n' roll, they can
jump around, have a wonderful time. Rock 'n' roll dangerous? If a teen
couple really dances it, I don't see how they have sufficient energy
left to want anything more than a hamburger and milk."
Bryant, the ABC Radio r&r specialist, who is a former "mayor"
Harlem, meets another criticism head-on, with the sage remark, "You
don't hear music playing on the corners where the fighting starts."
long will rock 'n' roll last? Paul Whiteman says, "Three years ago,
when some people were giving it five weeks, I said five years. But
we'll always have traces of the beat." Meanwhile, Freed points out that
rock 'n' roll is changing. "It's not enough now for a number to be
merely loud and wild. The kids are getting choosey. They're going for
slower, more musical records."
Joe Carlton, who is the
artists-and-repertoire chief for RCA Victor's popular music division,
confirms their guess—with sales records to back his opinions. He also
comments: "One good effect is that it is teaching kids to have a basic
appreciation of harmony. Analyze some of the hits and you'll find that,
musically, they are intricate. When kids can pick out those harmonies,
rather than just melody, they've learned something."
learning, he thinks, predicts a lasting effect: "Rock 'n' roll is like
a new word added to the language. The beat will be refined and used in
a more subtle manner than you're now hearing, but I doubt if it ever
will be lost. A hundred years from now there will be traces of
in the classics."
TV Radio Mirror
DR. JIVE -
captured Jericho with music. Tommy Smalls has done likewise to New
York. Five years ago, this Georgian marched north to Gotham and settled
behind a turntable and a WWRL microphone. It was historic. . . . First
off, the dynamic invader acquired the title of "Dr. Jive, the medical
hipster." He prescribed rock 'n' roll on The Dr. Jive Show, heard
Monday through Saturday from 3:05 to 5:30 P.M.—emanating from WWRL's
Woodside studios—and weekdays from 10:30 to midnight and Saturday from
10 to midnight —emanating from Small's Paradise, an uptown landmark
which Tommy also acquired. . . . Tommy piloted the Dr. Jive moniker to
national fame and a 100,000 fan club following. Then Dr. Jive began to
acquire other titles. Some people called him "father" of rock 'n' roll.
Others said he was "king." Thousands elected him Honorary Mayor of
Harlem, the first disc jockey to be so honored. It was all, in the
language of rock 'n' roll, "very dap." And it all confirmed some of
Tommy's pet theories. . . . This peppery twentyseven-year old has been
spinning rock 'n' roll, under the name of rhythm and blues, since 1946,
when he first went on the air down South. At that time, he grins, he
was "a crusading newspaperman." One of his crusades was to get
local radio station to hire a negro. When the prospective announcer had
to leave for the Navy, Tommy substituted and found himself a new
career—and a new crusade. . . . "No form of music today expresses
itself like rock 'n' roll," he says. It doesn't, Tommy insists, only
appeal to teenagers. His in-person revues at the Brooklyn Paramount and
Apollo Theaters are crowded with older folks, who wait in line just as
long as the youngsters. And, in answer to those who associate rock 'n'
roll with delinquency, Tommy says: "I want to tell you something. A
teenager can't stick up a store or be a delinquent when he's listening
to music or rising early in the morning to stand in line all day to
attend a show. When I was growing up, it was the big band era. Now it's
rock 'n' roll. Every parental generation has listened to the music the
youngsters dig and said it was bad for them. But what was bad for the
parents when they were young? It's the music that today is called
'standards,' the music we now accept." . . . Tommy spends much of his
free time combating delinquency—working with PAL, with community
centers, giving record hops. Tommy Smalls is still crusading. And,
while music can't cure all that ails the world, Dr. Jive thinks rock
'n' roll is mighty potent medicine.
TV Radio Mirror
Variety August 1913
ABOLISH INTERMISSION BECAUSE OF PROHIBITION
House Managers Claim That It Slows Up the Show. Was Begun Years Ago So
House Could Sell Booze. -
that prohibition seems assured a prominent eastern theatrical manager
is of the opinion that intermissions will be eliminated from all
vaudeville and burlesque houses in the near future. The managers have
long contended that an intermission slowed up a show and that a
vaudeville act drawing the opening intermission spot had to contend
with the same conditions that make the No. 1 spot obnoxious. Another
angle is the salary paid, an act in this position, and the antagonism
of artists when offered that position, with a resulting deterioration
in value received.
In the old days when theatres were licensed to sell
liquor and the venders passed among the vaudeville and burlesque
patrons offering their wares there was no thought of an intermission.
show business advanced legislation came into being that obliterated the
beverages from the theatres and the property adjoining the houses was
utilized as a haven for the thirsty. It was often controlled by the
theatre owners and the intermission was a natural development.
the installation of the torrid legislation a noticeable change has come
over the complexion of the properties adjoining theatres. Ice cream
parlors and orange juice booths have supplanted the saloons. A Western
manager who recently installed an ice cream booth in his theatre has
sounded the key note for a new source of revenue for the theatre owner.
This enterprising individual eliminated his intermissions and the
thirsty patrons can get refreshments by a visit to the back of the
house any time during the performance. He argues that the new order
makes a hit with his female patrons who remain stated during
intermission and endured the desertion of male escorts because it was a
matter of custom.
CASH: THE APOSTLE OF THE UPROOTED
Cash has Big River blues in his voice . . . and the sound of
prairie wind. On his guitar, he plays "an old standard country beat
with the rhythm accented and intensified." But, in this, his listeners
find the drive of America on the go ... to work, to war, to love—and,
sometimes, just to go. His song titles, too, carry the theme: "I Walk
the Line," "There You Go," "Next in Line," "Train of Love," "So Doggone
Lonesome," "Don't Make Me Go." Intense, talented Johnny has a right to
be the apostle of the uprooted.
Kingsland, Arkansas, was grim,
heartbreaking country when Johnny was born February 26, 1932. With the
aid of a rehabilitation program, the family moved to forty acres near
Dyess. They found no fortune, but they always sang. At 18, he
in the Air Force and met his girl "sixteen nights before I was sent to
Germany for three years." Upon his return, they were married. In
Memphis, Johnny tried to sell home appliances. He was "doing very bad"
when he went over to Sun Records, around the corner from Beale Street,
to ask Sam Phillips (the man who discovered Elvis Presley) for an
audition. Sam, unimpressed by Johnny's hymn singing, suggested he try
writing his own songs—he had had some poems published in Stars and
Stripes. Johnny produced "Cry, Cry, Cry," and "Hey, Porter." His
friends, Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant, backed him on guitar and
bass. Today, the three are in demand for TV and personal appearances. A
song evolves by lonely stages for Johnny Out on the road with
he gets homesick. Scraps of words and bits of music "come into my head.
Then, when I get home, I fish maybe forty, fifty scraps of paper—my
notes—out of my pockets and go to work. Then maybe I get a tune."
a young hopeful follows the same song-writing formula. Touring rock 'n'
roll and hillbilly shows give the boys a chance to try out their tunes
before an audience of their own age. If a little studio then cuts a few
discs and the tune takes off, both singer and studio are on their way
to a fortune. That's the individual side of it—startling, exciting,
life-changing for the lucky ones. The collective effect is
overpowering. About 150 new recordings—300 songs —are being released
each week. If the kids like the tune, it's made, whatever its label.
Trade publications such asVariety, Billboard and The Cash Box call it
an unprecedented "grass-roots movement," a musical revolution in which
the kid next door has almost as much chance for a hit as the
professional tunesmith or big-name singer. The field's wide open.
Anyone can win —if he has the talent and personality that speak to
America's teenagers in rhythms which pulse with their own heartbeat.