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There was no grand plan for a new music springing up in the midst of 1947. No big meeting amongst artists, musicians, writers, producers and label execs to confer on these developments and so there was no blueprints for what was to follow, no marketing strategy to present it to the public, nor even at the time an officially decreed name for it, because of course that kind of thing rarely happens in creative artistic endeavors.

But rock ‘n’ roll did indeed emerge, fully formed, in late summer 1947 after some tentative – but very far-flung – steps in that direction over the preceding year or two, and so before we go forward we need to first look back at what the musical and cultural climate in America was that gave rise to this phenomenon that we’re about to embark upon.

There Was A Time
As summer wound down in September 1947 the dividing line between the first half of the 20th Century and the second half was fully made.  America and its allies had won World War Two in the summer of 1945 and the United States entered into the post-war climate as the world’s greatest power, the nation’s economy having been fully revived during the war years after suffering for more than a decade at the hands of The Great Depression.

America had undergone dramatic social change during these years due to the requirements of fighting a two front war that depleted the available workforce just as production needed to increase dramatically.  African-Americans, who’d been forcibly held down in society since emancipation, found themselves being actively recruited to take up jobs in professions they’d previously been kept out of, giving them increased earning potential as well as the means with which 1.5 million were able to escape the repressive southern landscape for work in the more tolerant northern cities.  At the same time their conscription into the Armed Services, albeit in segregated units, also gave more than one million black men who would serve in the military during the war a broader worldview than they’d ever been afforded and upon returning to America the thought of meekly accepting oppression and second class status wasn’t nearly as tolerable. The lid on opportunity may have only been pried open due to circumstance but it wasn’t about to be sealed back up again once the confetti from the victory parades was swept up.

The market for the music grew out of this realm.

Meanwhile the pre-war record industry consisting of just a handful of established major companies which dominated the market to such an extent that it allowed them to essentially use their own musical and cultural tastes to shun anything that challenged their conservative standards suddenly found themselves surrounded by small independent upstarts who moved in on any music field that was being neglected by the larger companies. These tenacious, hustling entrepreneurs were mostly first generation Jewish immigrants who were similarly denied easy access into the American mainstream and they discovered by working in largely ethnic neighborhoods that the collective tastes of these vibrant communities were being mostly ignored by the music industry.  They quickly went from being electronic store proprietors and jukebox distributors who attempted to stock this music for others to becoming record label owners who attempted to make that same music for themselves in order to fulfill a commercial hole.

That provided the means with which the music could be made.

Finally there was the music itself and as with all creative endeavors there were two camps artists were aligned with, regardless of their stylistic background. Those who followed the accepted order of things and merely aspired to take their place among the established musical hierarchy… and those who sought to overturn the accepted order of things and blaze a new trail where they’d be the ones to set the rules, determined to satisfy their creative urges and establish their own legacy.

The latter was the mindset that gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll.

Time Has Brought About A Change
That the three movements – the cultural strivings of a segregated societal underclass seeking to find a voice representative of their own restless yearnings for freedoms; the commercial mavericks in the recording industry vying to compete in a field many knew little or nothing about but had the tenacity and drive to outwork those who did; and the creative endeavors of a new-breed of musical alchemists who sought fame and fortune in the ultimate form of self-expression – mixed together so effortlessly, feeding off one another and growing more powerful and assertive in short order, was only natural.  The heightened collective expectations of society’s underdogs always need to be given voice in the most euphoric and brash terms possible and it all simply coalesced into the most popular cultural outlet that existed for Black America at the time – music.

Rock ‘n’ roll was born out of, grew in and thrived as the voice of a newly independent and determined mindset in the post-war years.  The circumstances that enabled its rise and most importantly the CONTEXT that allowed for it were utterly unique and virtually impossible to construct artificially.  It’s doubtful that it would’ve happened – in quite the same way and certainly without the same impact – had any of those three seemingly unrelated factors been significantly altered.

That’s why such musical revolutions are never planned by any in the industry itself, but rather are simply due to the natural reaction of people who are seeking something reflective of their current views and future outlook socially. When a number of them, independent of one another, all start gravitating towards a certain record, a particular artist or a specific style that’s emerging and make it popular then other artists catch on quickly and try their hand in that style too, all seeking to reflect that vague but easily understood “mood” that flows through the community as a whole, and intuitively striving to become the voice of that movement which will come to define their generation.

When it happens, which isn’t often, the effects are monumental.

The Time Has Come Today
The universe had all but stopped in 1941 with the advent of America’s entry into the war and throughout the duration of the conflict everybody’s very existence seemed frozen in a hazy netherworld where time stood still, afraid to draw a deep breath which may very well be their last.  When life started up again four and a half years later, unshackled from fear and energized by the boundless possibilities they came home to, it was no longer the same insular landscape they’d left behind.  Too many had been around the world and back again to ever be fully satisfied with the view out of their front window anymore, while others on the home front had their eyes opened to new and exciting opportunities and weren’t about cast their gaze downward again.

In the coming years there would be a mad rush to explore and conquer new and uncharted territories in every walk of life and it was only natural that popular culture would reflect that.  The existing social fabric was being quickly unraveled which provided rock ‘n’ roll with a more advantageous climate with which to begin to penetrate the market while the technological advances that followed seemed to be almost conspiring to give the music the platform from which to be heard.  The future was approaching at a rapid speed, the jet age was upon us and soon the space age would follow, if it hadn’t already.

In July 1947 an unidentified flying object was sighted and crashed near a ranch in Roswell, New Mexico.  The Air Force claimed it was a weather balloon and later research revealed it was equipment designed to detect and measure clandestine atomic bomb tests, but the widespread legend surrounding the event is that it was actually aliens whose spaceship had landed in the desert and the government conspired to cover up the incident.

Two weeks later and just two states away from the crash the first unquestioned rock ‘n’ roll song was recorded.  That may not be a coincidence.

What’s beyond dispute though is the cultural environment that was swirling around the United States throughout 1947 resulted in the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, which is where our story starts on the next page.

Hang on, kids, it’s gonna be a wild ride.