Letter: The history of rock and roll

Published: 9/23/2023 7:01:05 AM

Modified: 9/23/2023 7:00:14 AM

Jann Wenner said the quiet part out loud, responding to a reporter who questioned him about his new book “The Masters.” His claim that female artists and artists of color simply didn’t “articulate well intellectually” is shockingly tone-deaf for someone who’s spent his life chronicling American popular music. Some are using this incident to complain about how Rolling Stone and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame don’t represent “true rock music.” As a music educator I can tell you that we wouldn’t have rock ‘n roll (or jazz, blues, hip-hop, etc.) without the contributions of Black Americans.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard and Chuck Berry were the originators. Since then, people of color and women have figured prominently. Masters like Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Prince and Beyoncé. To those upset when The Hall neglects their favorite band, while inducting artists they feel “aren’t real rock music,” I say, educate yourself.

Consider heavy metal for example. Metal is harmonically and structurally very different from the original “rock and roll” of the 1950s. So too is hip-hop. But to believe that only one of these genres is “real rock music” is to misunderstand history. Snoop Dogg and Megadeath are equally deserving of a place in The Hall. Popular music since the 1950s has spawned countless spin-off genres. All of them fall under the umbrella of “rock and roll,” as defined as “American popular music from the 50s to the present, made primarily by and for young people.”

Dan Williams


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