Rock and roll (often written as rock & roll or rock ’n’ roll) is a genre of popular music that evolved in the United States after World War II in the late 1940s, from a combination of the rhythms of the blues, from the African American culture, and from America’s country music and gospel music scenes. Though elements of rock and roll can be heard in country records of the 1930s, and in blues records from the 1920s, rock and roll did not acquire its name until the 1950s. An early form of rock and roll was rockabilly, which combined country and jazz, with influences from traditional Appalachian folk, and gospel music.
The term „rock and roll” now has at least two different meanings, both in common usage. The American Heritage Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary both define rock and roll as synonymous with rock music. Conversely, Allwords.com defines the term to refer specifically to the music of the 1950s. For the purpose of differentiation, this article uses the latter definition, while the broader musical genre is discussed in the rock music article.
In the earliest rock and roll styles of the late 1940s and early 1950s, either the piano or saxophone was often the lead instrument, but these were generally replaced or supplemented by guitar in the middle to late 1950s. The beat is essentially a boogie woogie blues rhythm with an accentuated backbeat, the latter almost always provided by a snare drum. Classic rock and roll is usually played with one or two electric guitars (one lead, one rhythm), a string bass or (after the mid-1950s) an electric bass guitar, and a drum kit.
The massive popularity and eventual worldwide view of rock and roll gave it a widespread social impact. Far beyond simply a musical style, rock and roll, as seen in movies and on television, influenced lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language. It went on to spawn various sub-genres, often without the initially characteristic backbeat, that are now more commonly called simply „rock music” or „rock”.
Origins of the style…
The origins of rock and roll have been fiercely debated by commentators and historians of music. There is general agreement that it arose in the southern United States of America – the region which would produce most of the major early rock and roll acts – through the meeting of the different musical traditions which had developed from transatlantic African slavery and largely European immigration in that region. The migration of many freed slaves and their descendants to major urban centers like Memphis and north to New York City, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Buffalo meant that black and white residents were living in close proximity in larger numbers than ever before, and as a result heard each other’s music and even began to emulate each others fashions. Radio stations that made white and black forms of music available to other groups, the development and spread of the gramophone record, and musical styles such as jazz and swing which were taken up by both black and white musicians, aided this process of „cultural collision”.
The immediate roots of rock and roll lay in the so-called „race music” and hillbilly music (later called rhythm and blues and country and western) of the 1940s and 1950s. Particularly significant influences were jazz, blues, boogie woogie, country, folk and gospel music. Commentators differ in their views of which of these forms were most important and the degree to which the new music was a re-branding of African American rhythm and blues for a white market, or a new hybrid of black and white forms.
In the 1930s jazz, and particularly swing, both in urban based dance bands and blues-influenced country swing, was among the first music to present African American sounds for a predominately white audience. The 1940s saw the increased use of blaring horns (including saxophones), shouted lyrics and boogie woogie beats in jazz based music. During and immediately after World War II, with shortages of fuel and limitations on audiences and available personnel, large jazz bands were less economical and tended to be replaced by smaller combos, using guitars, bass and drums. In the same period, particularly on the West Coast and in the Midwest, the development of jump blues, with its guitar riffs, prominent beats and shouted lyrics, prefigured many later developments. Similarly, country boogie and Chicago electric blues supplied many of the elements that would be seen as characteristic of rock and roll.
Rock and roll arrived at time of considerable technological change, soon after the development of the electric guitar, amplifier and microphone, and the 45 rpm record. There were also changes in the record industry, with the rise of independent labels like Atlantic, Sun and Chess servicing niche audiences and a similar rise of radio stations that played their music. It was the realization that relatively affluent white teenagers were listening to this music that led to the development of what was to be defined as rock and roll as a distinct genre…