The Impacts of Rock and Roll Music on American Society
ContentsIntroduction Racial Equality Freedom of Expression Conclusion
From Elvis Presley and the Beatles to Bon Jovi and Nickelback, rock and roll music has been through many transitions. What nobody expected, though, was the impact these acts and countless others would have on American culture. Rock and roll music influenced everything from fashion to words, from dances to peoples’ personalities. Though these influences were primarily on America’s youth, America’s youth, in turn, changed the entire nation. Rock music’s primary influences on American culture were in racial equality and freedom of expression.
Segregation between Caucasians and African Americans, more informally known as “whites” and “blacks,” respectively, was a given in Southern U.S. culture for almost 200 years. After World War II, however, some Americans began to become more open to change in response to the violence and tension during the war. One of those changes that began to take place dealt with the issue of racial relations. Country and western music fused with rhythm and blues, (among other types of music), what came to be known as rock and roll, had a large role in breaking down racial barriers.
The idea, and rock and roll music itself, arguably existed before the emergence of Elvis Presley. He was simply the first person to make it famous worldwide. Musical artists began recording that type of music early in the 1950’s and rock and roll was a term used to describe black R&B. As the music got airplay, it became appealing to white people, and artists such as Haley and the Comets and Chuck Berry recorded covers of R&B songs (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761558548/rock_music.html). When Elvis arrived on the scene, he streamlined making rhythm and blues popular in the world of whites. In particular, teenagers enjoyed the music, and they, who are characteristically more open to change, began to mix racial lines by dancing with people of a color different from their own (http://webcom2.grtxle.com/elvis/textbook/1_beginnings/page7.cfm). Rock and roll’s effect on race issues spread across the nation and grabbed many headlines. Though there was plenty of criticism from parents and the media alike, many people agree that rock music helped pave the way for racial equality. A quote from Race, Rock, and Elvis sums it up perfectly:
The whole movement has broken down barriers… How better to understand what is unknown to you than by appreciation for the emotional experiences of other people? And how better are these emotions portrayed than by music? (Bertrand, Michael T. Race, Rock, and Elvis. University of Illinois Press 2000)
Early rock and roll performers paved the way for America’s youth’s yen to be able to more freely express themselves to take flight. Elvis Presley pioneered “hip-swinging,” a gyration of the hips in time to music, a form of dancing that is considered normal by today’s youth. In the 1950’s, however, his hip-swinging was considered appalling by most adults and led to his being banned from TV shows unless he either stood still or he allowed them to film him from the waist up (www.elvis.com/about-the-king/film_and_tv.aspx). Nevertheless, teenage girls used his moves as a way to open them to their sexual desires, and teenage boys, as a result, tried to imitate his moves. Eventually, America began to “loosen up” and, these days, hip-swinging and “gyrating” are the norm. Rock and roll affected not only the youth’s actions, but their words, as well. Later acts, such as the Beatles and Bob Dylan, led the nation’s people in expressing their right to free speech by protesting wars and expressing their political views through lyrics. Now, musical artists sing about whatever they want and, most of the time, Americans love it.
These are only a few examples of how rock and roll music changed American culture. They are, of course, important changes and without those few pioneers the country may not have gotten as far with racial equality or the freedom of expression. People like Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley were ahead of their time in recognizing that the color of a person’s skin should not dictate their worthiness. Expressing feelings in the form of a song has bettered many people, and will continue to do so in the future.