Music in the 1950's
At the start of the 1950's it was all about big bands and traditional American values, but by the middle of the 1950's and certainly by the end of the decade the focus had shifted away from the big bands and the country sound into the world of Rock and Roll. Artists like Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Little Richard push the envelope of what is acceptable in pop culture and usher in a new sound and message.
Music became filled with the sounds of the electric guitar, an aggressive beat and even edgier lyrics - Rock and Roll was starting to represent the new youth of America. Unlike many other areas of American culture the values and traditions of America were being challenged as African American culture began to have a more relevant roll in American culture and the ideas of equality began to gain traction. This was evident not only with the R&B sounds in Rock and Roll, but in the soul and the heart of Jazz music by artists like Miles Davis.
By the end of the 1950's Rock and Roll was center stage, but the music industry took a huge hit when Buddy Holly died in a plane crash in 1959.
Task 1: Watch the Introductory Video to this Unit (5 minutes)
Task 2: What do you already know about Music in the 1950's (5 minutes)
Task 3: Review the provided videos and attached links for music during the 1950's (25 minutes)
Task 4: Explore how Motown Records and the Motown Sound Starts to Impact Music in America (15 minutes)
Elvis Presley came from very humble beginnings and grew up to become one of the biggest names in rock 'n' roll. By the mid-1950s, he appeared on the radio, television and the silver screen. On August 16, 1977, at age 42, he died of heart failure, which was related to his drug addiction. Since his death, Presley has remained one of the world's most popular music icons. (https://www.biography.com/musician/elvis-presley#:~:text=Elvis%20Presley%20came%20from%20very,related%20to%20his%20drug%20addiction. )
All Shook Up
Little Richard helped define the early rock ‘n’ roll era of the 1950s with his driving, flamboyant sound. With his croons, wails and screams, he turned songs like “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” into huge hits and influenced such bands as the Beatles. (https://www.biography.com/musician/little-richard )
Good Golly, Miss Molly
Born in Georgia in 1930, Ray Charles was a legendary musician who pioneered the genre of soul music during the 1950s. Often called the "Father of Soul," Charles combined blues, gospel and jazz to create groundbreaking hits such as "Unchain My Heart," "Hit the Road Jack" and "Georgia on My Mind." He died in 2004, leaving a lasting impression on contemporary music. (https://www.biography.com/musician/ray-charles#:~:text=Ray%20Charles%20Robinson%20was%20born,death%20of%20his%20younger%20brother. )
Georgia On My Mind
Hit The Road Jack
I've Got a Woman
Instrumental in the development of jazz, Miles Davis is considered one of the top musicians of his era. Born in Illinois in 1926, he traveled at age 18 to New York City to pursue music.
Throughout his life, he was at the helm of a changing concept of jazz. Winner of eight Grammy awards, Miles Davis died in 1991 from respiratory distress in Santa Monica, California. (https://www.biography.com/musician/miles-davis#:~:text=Instrumental%20in%20the%20development%20of,a%20changing%20concept%20of%20jazz. )
Blue in Green
Time After Time
As an irresistible force of social and cultural change, Berry Gordy’s legendary Motown made its mark not just on the music industry, but society at large, with a sound that has become one of the most significant musical accomplishments and stunning success stories of the 20th century. Diana Ross & the Supremes, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson & the Jackson 5, the Marvelettes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Lionel Richie & the Commodores, Teena Marie, their music communicated and brought together a racially divided country and segregated society, around the world, touching all people of all ages and races.
No other record company in history has exerted such an enormous influence on both the style and substance of popular music and culture. With more than 180 No. 1 hit songs worldwide and counting, that influence is still being felt today, from pop to hip-hop. Berry Gordy's recording studio was first opened as Tamla Records on January 12, 1959 and incorporated as Motown Record on April 14, 1960. (https://www.motownmuseum.org/story/motown/ )
Birth of the Motown Sound
Black musicians, producers and singer-songwriters like Quincy Jones, James Brown, Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards and Smokey Robinson were pioneering the sound of pop music in America that would go on to the influence current musical inclinations, making it possible for someone like Michael Jackson to exist with the kind of varied, but signature sound that can’t be replicated.
The concept of Motown was to transform unknowns off the street into national, sometimes international stars and refine their sound for mass appeal. The music started out as music for young America, with a primary focus on white America. It was also a leverage for Black artists to be seen and heard in an image they had control over, during a time where non-white representation was nonexistent and Black music was vilified.
The foundation of Motown was about refining one’s technique through experimentation and innovation. Behind the scenes, Berry Gordy surrounded himself and his artists with influential hitmakers like Barrett Strong and Deke Richards that worked with the artists to craft their own sound to avoid being lumped together and also be ahead of where music was going. (https://www.bet.com/music/2019/03/11/motown-legacy-created-todays-pop-music.html )