Rock and roll first started to appear in society in the early 50s, after The Great Depression and World War II. At its creation, rock and roll represented a happier world no longer stuck in a depression or destroyed by a war. Life was getting better, with spare money to spend at the drugstore or new cars to show off to friends and rock and roll exemplified that new life. Rock and roll was the kind of music that teens could play at any time, whether they were at a party or were just driving down the streets. Rock and roll was a celebration of the new times ahead and the end of the dark days. It had its roots in blues, jazz, and gospel music and slowly grew into its iconic, modern sound. Rock and roll was not created or invented by one single musician. Instead it evolved through the music of multiple artists including Fats Domino, Little Richard, Joe Turner and Ray Charles and became its own style of music.
Rock and roll music also had a rebellious air to it. Rock and roll was seen as an entirely new type of music called “Satan’s music” or tasteless by the older generation but resonated with the younger teens and adults of the time. Adults often thought that rock and roll glorified and promoted vulgarism and delinquency, which in some cases was true, but there was also a large selection of rock and roll that was about love, peace, and other positive topics (D’Anjou). After the Great Depression and World War II, society seemed to stress conformity rather than individuality and rock and roll music was exactly the opposite of that, which is why it appealed so strongly to teenagers and young adult. This younger generation was tired of the strict and boring post-war lifestyle that they were leading and wanted something more exciting and invigorating, which rock and roll gave. Rock and roll music is characterized by an upbeat tempo, often with large amounts of guitar, and raw lyrics. This is drastically different to the smoother, softer, and more peaceful music of popular musicians like Nat King Cole and Woody Guthrie that many adults preferred. Rock and roll, therefore, had a much larger audience with young teens and adults than the older generation.
Rock and roll has a reputation for being intense and negative. It often receives a bad reputation for promoting dangerous things like drugs and alcohol. There were times, however, when rock and roll was used to have a positive impact on society. When rock and roll was beginning to gain interest in the US, racial segregation and gender equality were huge issues in the country. Blacks were treated as inferiors to the white race, and blacks often had to have their own bathrooms, churches and schools so that they would not mix with the whites. Woman were also treated with an inferior attitude, and often spent their whole lives at homes while the men were out working at their jobs and making money. In the early 50s, women were supposed to be obedient wives and caring mothers and did not have much of a say of their own.Throughout the US in the mid-1900s, there was a sense of disunity because all citizens had their own viewpoints on everything. There were constant disagreements on opinions from stances on the Vietnam War to Hollywood gossip, which sometimes even escalated to fights in the streets or gunfights in the alleys. Rock and roll was the remedy to all of these issues and was used by multiple artists and events to have a beneficial impact on the world. Woodstock, Elvis, and Madonna used rock and roll music to have a positive effect on society, namely in the areas of unity, integration, and gender equality.
1969 was a year for the music festival record books. The Woodstock music festival was held in mid-summer August that year and is still remembered today as one of the pivotal moments in music history. Interestingly, the festival was not actually held in Woodstock. After a few changes of venue, the concert was chosen to be held at dairy farmer Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, NY, about 60 miles away from Woodstock, NY. The festival was intended to be a ticketed concert for music lovers, but thousands upon thousands of attendees came to the concert. This greatly exceeded the anticipated number of attendants and the festival turned into a free concert . Between Aug 15 and Aug 17, nearly 500,000 attendants danced to rock and roll music in the rain and sang their hearts out to famous musicians like the Grateful Dead, the Who, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. That large of a group of people could easily have turned into chaos and catastrophe and although it rained all weekend long, nothing could stop the happiness and peace that spread throughout that dairy farm.
Woodstock was an event meant for so much more than just music, it was also a place of self-expression, creativity, and freedom.The Vietnam War was in full effect and people all over the country were constantly being reminded by the media of the possibility of being drafted into the army and sent overseas or being made to work in some manner to help in the war. Woodstock was a festival where for just three short days, those worries could be forgotten and community and peace could be celebrated. Images of Woodstock found today often depict bohemian clothing, long hair, and smiles on everyone’s faces as they enjoyed good music. In a time when the world felt sad, dead, and dreary, Woodstock was a celebration of life and freedom. Richie Havens, the opening act for the festival, explained that, “Though it’s frequently portrayed as this crazy, unbridled festival of rain-soaked, stoned hippies dancing in the mud, Woodstock was obviously much more than that – or we wouldn’t still be talking about it… People of all ages and colors came together in the fields of Max Yasgur’s farm” (Havens). This unity was only possible because of the music.
The heart of Woodstock was rock and roll. The reason that Woodstock was such a success is because rock and roll brought together everyone, no matter the age, race, or gender. Normally, a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people will quickly create a disaster, but rock and roll brought peace and harmony to the festival. Rock and roll music brought together everything that the attendants believed in and loved: anti-Vietnam War, love of America, and good music. The music brought together everyone, no matter their opinions or their biases, through rock and roll music. Rock and roll was the one common interest among all 500,000 attendants, amid all the different opinions and biases. There is a reason Woodstock is called “Three Days of Peace and Music.” Rock and roll was feel-good music and let people forget their worries. Woodstock used rock and roll music to bring every kind of person together and established unity, which was a concept that was tough to come by in the 1960s.
The “King of Rock and Roll” is a phrase that nearly every American recognizes. That title was given to Elvis Presley for no small reason. Born in January 1935, he started his music career at the young age of 13 by recording a song with producer Sam Phillips. From there, his career skyrocketed. Elvis released his first song called ‘Heartbreak Hotel” with RCA Records in 1956 and instantly became a hit. His music was described as rockabill, characterized as a mix between Western music styles and rhythm and blues and Elvis was one of the first musicians to popularize this style. He spent his life recording music, performing, acting, and even serving in the military for a few years. Some of his most famous tracks include “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Jailhouse Rock”. During and after Elvis’ life, it is said that 500-600 million copies of his music have been sold and he won 3 Grammys and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, among many other distinguished honors.
There is a reason that Elvis Presley is still on of the most talked-about musicians in the world, and that is because of the great impact he left on the world. According to the Rolling Stone Magazine, “It was Elvis who made rock ‘n’ roll the international language of pop ” (_________). Before Elvis, rock and roll was just another style of music but he made it arguably the most popular genre of that time period. Elvis also laid the pathway for many musicians to come; Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Bruce Springsteen have all listed Elvis Presley as a huge influence on their music career. Elvis was one of the first musicians to bring rock and roll to the forefront of society and make it truly popular.
Besides influencing music, Elvis also had a major impact of the societal and pop culture of the mid-1900s. Living in a post-war time period, the world seemed like a much happier, time period filled with equality, peace, and prosperity. One major issue still remained in the US and that was racial segregation. African Americans were still being treated as a inferior race to the white supremacy in America. There were separate bathrooms, schools, churches, and even public water fountains for blacks and whites. Many citizens of the US were starting to rally for equal rights but the majority accepted the segregation rules and therefore no real change was made. New leaders were needed to destroy the walls of segregation. As Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and other black rights activists were beginning to come into the limelight, Elvis was breaking down barriers as well be rejecting racial segregation in his music. His music was considered rock and roll, but he drew heavily on African American music styles. A specific song of his titled “The Hillbilly Cat” contained styles of music from both white and black cultures, signifying the unity of the two races (Hauser). Since Elvis had such a large following and had many the support of thousands of music lovers, his messages were easily able to be spread to a large group of people. Elvis’ flamboyant dancing and exciting music reached a large number of people and his message against racial segregation quickly circulated the country, greatly aiding the fight for equality for all. Although the fight for equality in America is largely credited to rights activists, Elvis Presley also had a large impact on this issue. Elvis was able to use his popularity and his rock and roll music to do good for the world. He was not the only musician to use rock and roll to positively impact society; there were other famous singers who used their popularity and music to spread their ideas.
Madonna is arguably one of the most influential women musicians the world has ever seen. Madonna was born in Michigan in August 1968 and led a fairly average childhood up until 1978 when she dropped out of college and moved to New York City to pursue her performing dreams. After struggling for a few years, she was finally signed to a singles deal and released her hit song “Everybody” which brought her into the limelight. It was her third single “Holiday”, however, that turned her into a global sensation and set the course for her future. From there she went on to release numerous albums and singles and sell over 300 million records worldwide. Nicknamed “The Queen of Pop”, Madonna is known for her smash hits such as “Vogue”, “Like a Prayer”, and “La Isla Bonita and has won over 20 VMAs awards. Today Madonna is still releasing hit songs, even four decades after the beginning of her career.
Madonna not only influenced the music world, but also had a major impact on society.
Madonna’s music career has undoubtedly been very successful but that it not her only claim to fame. Madonna will also have a lasting legacy in the fight for gender equality. Before Madonna, most rock and roll musicians were men and there was not a place in society for women rock and rollers. She was one of the first woman musicians to truly be recognized for her role in the music industry and was able to break down many gender walls that excluded women from the music scene. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to which she was inducted in 2008, described her as, “…an early emblem of “women in rock,” helping dissolve gender boundaries in the music business” (_________). Madonna’s massive audience and increasing fame brought her to the forefront of pop culture and helped her to use her music to convey the messages she wanted to send. Madonna used rock and roll music to express her beliefs in women individuality and strength which greatly assisted the fight to make women be seen as equal to men (Gaugler). A huge advocate for feminism and women respecting themselves, Madonna released songs such as “Express Yourself” and “Some Girls” to emphasize women’s power, potential, and talent. Madonna’s music had the power to help women realize how beautiful and strong they are, all through the power of rock and roll. Rock and roll music was the medium that allowed Madonna to spread her ideas and empower women, creating a positive impact on society.
Rock and roll has had a short but proud history. From its creation in the early 1950s, rock and roll music has managed to create unity, break down the walls of segregation, inspire and change the world of music, and promote gender equality. The negative connotation that rock and roll has does nothing to detract from the positive impact that it has on society and the beneficial changes that it has brought in its short 75 year history. Rock and roll also continues to be popular to this day. Not only are older musicians and bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones still loved today, but also newer artists like Linkin Park and Coldplay are making names for themselves in the rock and roll industry. These bands are also inspiring and impacting society with their music just like Woodstock, Elvis, and Madonna. Both Linkin Park and Coldplay have been described as advocating for social change in their music. Rock and roll will have a lasting legacy for decades to come and will continue to create a positive impact on the world.
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