The Marvels of Music: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Propelled the Teenager
By Joe Wells
Rock and Roll, in all its forms, gives us a microphone to communicate with the world. It has the power to bring nationalities and generations together, to elect world leaders, and to move people. No other art form has the social significance of Rock and Roll. You simply cannot understand Western Culture without taking a serious look at this music.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, OH, is set to capture in time the people and events that have contributed to this genre of music. In it’s 150,000 square-feet , there are thousands of pieces of musical and cultural history on display. However, as the above statement claims, rock and roll is more than simply the music. It represents a morph that captured the American society as rhythm and blues combined with folk music, gospel hymns, blues, country, and bluegrass to ignite a fire throughout the younger generation following the second World War.
With America being deeply segregated, the early pioneers of rock and roll didn’t always get their due. Individuals such as Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton, black musicians who played jazz music, were just as talented as some of their white counter-parts such as Glenn Miller; however, America was not ready to accept on equal grounds the black-musician nor the strong, pulsing rhythms, designed to stir a dancing crowd, often associated with rhythm and blues. Songs such as “Don’t Want No Skinny Woman,” “Gotta Give Me What-cha Got,” and “I Want a Bowlegged Woman” made it very clear that the message of this brand of music was highly sexual and nothing that a respectable teenager would dare hear coming out of the family radio, at least not when parents were around to listen.
Even with the adults pushing against it, “race music” as some called it, began to pick up steam through the airwaves as more and more radio stations began devoting programming time to it. Disk jockeys became a more powerful influence, as teen audiences would form relationships with their favorite, generating a loyalty and a following that would set the scene for the rock ‘n’ roll explosion.
In 1951, out of Cleveland, OH, a radio disk jockey named Alan Freed launched the “Moondog Show” on WJW radio. It was designed to be a show that would attract teenagers from all walks of life and from every race, capitalizing on the huge market. While there were beautiful songs atop the charts, songs like the Weavers’ “Good Night Irene” (1950) and “Tennessee Waltz” (1951) by Patti Page, none would cause the dancing stir that could be found playing in the “Moondog House”, a term used to denote Freed’s show. As the music played, and with the microphone turned on, Freed would drum along on a telephone book and shout with the music, encouraging the teen listeners to dance along. 
With his popularity and following growing amongst the teenagers across racial lines, Freed launched out into the area of hosting live concerts, most notably “The Moondog Coronation Ball”, held on March 21, 1952. A crowd of over 9,000, most of them teenagers, poured into the Cleveland Arena for a night of music and dancing. While the music played inside, there were twice as many outside that didn’t want to be left out, so they stormed the gates and crashed the concert. Billboard and Cashbox magazines covered the story, generating national publicity for Freed and this brand of rock’n’roll, a term he started using to describe the music he was promoting.
Enter “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”!
Born in 1935, Elvis Presley taught himself how to play the guitar. He would frequent Gospel singings, where he would soak in the styles and abilities of those who sang the spirituals as well as listen in on the radio to various blues artists such as Big Bill Broonzy and Arthur Crudup, much to his parents disapproval. In 1955, Elvis entered into a contract with RCA Victor that would forever change his life, the scene of rock ‘n’ roll, and the teenagers who would flock to see “The Pelvis” perform, a name given to him because of the provocative movements Elvis would make while performing. Even with this seemingly good fit for the time and the music, Elvis was labeled a rebellious individual in the way he dressed and the music he would sing. It wasn’t until 1956, with Ed Sullivan’s compliment that Elvis was a “real decent fine boy”, that both he and rock ‘n’ roll were propelled into the popular market overnight.  Aided by Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, with it’s whole-some image of teenage life, what was once considered rebellious teenage music, quickly became a mass money-making machine that steam rolled its way into mainstream America, forever changing the teenage culture.
Now fast forward to today – the success of marketing to teens in the area of music has propelled the American teenager in the area of technology. The ear buds found in every teens ear and the iTunes accounts overflowing with music and videos are all a result of a purposed and focused effort. When you consider where most teens are first introduced into technology on a major way – music is usually what attracts.
So why look into the history of music as it pertains to the teenagers of today? The answer is simply, because it’s a lesson of how money talks in a culture and how many will conform to what the culture pushes. That push has not stopped to this day. It’s just intensified as the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s has become pure in the shadow of the rock ‘n’ roll music of today. Regardless, the message is the same, we must not allow culture to set the bar! Paul wrote in Romans 12: 2, “And do not be conformed to this world…” (NASB).
Joe Wells has a passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a heart for sharing that Truth with teenagers. He has worked with young people as a youth minister and has spoken at various youth events. Joe has traveled extensively on mission trips and has also served as a pulpit minister and education minister. He holds a BS from Middle Tennessee State University and has done Master level work at Bear Valley Bible Institute and holds a Masters of New Testament from Freed Hardeman University. Joe and his wife Erin reside in Spring Hill, Tennessee and are the proud parents of two children. He works full time for FOCUS Press and is the editor of Kaio Magazine which is a publication geared towards teenagers.
 Palladino, Grace. “Great Balls of Fire.” Teenagers an American History. New York: Basic, 1996. 121. Print.
 Jackson, John A. Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll. New York: Schirmer, 1991. 3-5. Print.
 The Ed Sullivan Show, January 6, 1957.