The rock and roll music genre has a vibrant history, with deep roots in the American experience. But what is the origin of rock music?
The genre is still going strong in the 21st century, yet many interesting rock and roll facts have been forgotten. As the music industry has developed, the definition of rock music has evolved, with many different rock categories arising. What rock is perceived as now is different from how rock used to be perceived in the 1950s.
Check out these little-known facts about rock and roll history, and vote up the ones you never knew before.
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Sister Rosetta Tharpe Is Known As The 'Godmother Of Rock And Roll' For Her Pioneering Use Of The Electric Guitar
Although you may not have heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, she is known in rock history as one of the genre’s pioneers. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, with many musicians stating it was overdue. Tharpe was an inspiration to many, and her music was a precursor to the rock and roll music genre.
With its rhythmic nature, Tharpe's gospel music quickly gained her fans amongst the rhythm and blues audiences. Her music became so popular that many began to call her the "Godmother of Rock 'n' Roll."
It wasn’t only because of her exciting blend of gospel and rock and roll that she is considered the "Godmother of Rock 'n' Roll" in the music industry, but also because of her pioneering guitar technique. By using heavy distortion on her electric guitar, Tharpe managed to bring gospel and spiritual music into the limelight and the mainstream.
Her guitar technique also played a massive role in forming the British blues music genre in the 1960s, and the formation of the electric blues genre.
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There Would Be No Rock And Roll Without Chuck Berry
John Lennon once said, "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'"
Berry’s music was a major contributing factor in refining and developing rhythm and blues music into rock and roll, and he is often hailed as the “Father of Rock and Roll.” Britannica sums up his contribution to the genre like so:
In helping to create rock and roll from the crucible of rhythm and blues, he combined clever lyrics, distinctive guitar sounds, boogie-woogie rhythms, precise diction, an astounding stage show, and musical devices characteristic of country-western music and the blues in his many best-selling single records and albums... Berry played a major role in broadening the appeal of rhythm-and-blues music during the 1950s. He fashioned his lyrics to appeal to the growing teenage market by presenting vivid and humorous descriptions of high-school life, teen dances, and consumer culture.
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Lead Belly Allegedly Won His Freedom From Prison By Writing A Song For A Governor - Twice
Huddie William Ledbetter was an American singer who dabbled in several genres, including blues, rock, folk, and even gospel. According to historical accounts, Ledbetter received his stage name, “Lead Belly,” while he was serving time for one of his two prison sentences.
During his first prison sentence, Lead Belly was convicted of slaying a relative. He had tried to escape prison, but after a failed attempt, he allegedly decided to become a model inmate in the hopes he would find a way out of jail through good behavior. Lead Belly’s chance came when he was tasked to sing for a Texas governor, Pat Neff, on numerous occasions.
Capitalizing on this stroke of good fortune, Lead Belly composed a song that he would frequently sing to the governor, begging for a pardon and release. After a year of singing for the governor, Lead Belly was granted a full pardon and released from prison.
Five years later, Lead Belly again found himself in jail due to a stabbing incident. It’s alleged that Lead Belly was released from prison the second time because he again wrote a song and sang it to a different governor requesting his release. However, according to reports, Lead Belly was allowed to apply for an early release due to the prison facing budgeting issues because of the Great Depression.
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The Phrase 'Rock And Roll' Had Multiple Meanings Before It Became A Music Genre
The origins of the phrase "rock and roll" can be traced back as far as the Middle Ages, when the term “roll” was used to refer to sexual encounters. The term “rock” has been present since the 17th century, and referred to shaking or disturbing someone else. Meanwhile, the full phrase “rock and roll” often referred to a ship’s movement while at sea. Later, the phrase was also used in a gospel context.
In the 20th century, from the 1920s to the 1940s, the phrase “rock 'n' roll” was used by young people to describe sexual acts or the act of dancing - often highlighting how one’s body moved when the music was played. The phrase evolved into a music genre when African American artists began making music with a distinctive rhythm that took elements from blues and gospel music.
It wasn’t until the 1950s in America that rock and roll music became known as a genre. Moreover, the phrase "rock 'n' roll" only truly became popularly associated with a music genre in 1951, when a disc jockey by the name of Alan Freed promoted it on mainstream radio.