The rock and roll music that dominated airwaves across the country during the 1950s and early 1960s is often described as a triumph for integration. Black and white musicians alike, including Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, scored hit records with young audiences from different racial groups, blending sonic traditions from R&B, country, and pop. This so-called "desegregation of the charts" seemed particularly resonant since major civil rights groups were waging major battles for desegregation in public places at the same time. And yet the centering of integration, as well as the supposition that democratic rights largely based in consumerism should be available to everyone regardless of race, has resulted in very distinct responses to both music and movement among Black and white listeners who grew up during this period. Rock and Roll, Desegregation Movements, and Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era: An "Integrated Effort" traces these distinctions using archival research, musical performances, and original oral histories to determine the uncertain legacies of the civil rights movement and early rock and roll music in a supposedly post-civil rights era.
Beth Fowler is associate professor of teaching in the Irvin D. Reid Honors College at Wayne State University.
Introduction: “A Subtle Defiance in the Songs”
Chapter 1: “Shufflin’ ‘Til the Break of Dawn,” 1946-1953
Chapter 2: “If It’s a Hit, It’s a Hit,” 1954-1956
Chapter 3: “A Teen Ager in Love,” 1957-1960
Chapter Four: “They’d All Be Dancing Together,” 1961-1964
Chapter Five, “A Drummer With a Totally Different Beat,” The Post-Civil Rights Era
About the Author
Beth Fowler displays a rare and admirable ability to navigate the histories of both the civil rights and rock and roll movements. She creates in the process an excellent analysis of how the two interacted. Well-researched and documented, her story concludes with intriguing post-civil rights era oral perspectives. An excellent contribution to existing literature on both movements.
Beth Fowler offers an engaging account of how popular music has provided a crucial venue for debates over racial identities and racial inclusion in America since World War II. Based on an impressive mix of archival research and some riveting ‘ear-witness’ testimony from Black and white fans, the book reveals how changing racial attitudes and social practices have been reflected in, expressed through, and enabled by developments in the world of popular music.
From Louis Jordan to Lil Nas X, via rock and roll, soul, and the British invasion, Fowler deftly unpicks the contradictory reactionary and progressive dynamics of American popular music culture and in the process tells us much about the struggle for racial justice in modern America.
The power of this book is not only in its detailed timeline of rock and roll, desegregation, and civil rights efforts from the 1950s and 1960s, but also the reflection and insights provided by the final chapter on the influences, historicisms, and societal constructs surrounding race and racism in today’s America. Readers will find interesting documentation and scrutiny around this historical time period in American history and its effect on daily messaging, commercialization, and crime in the modern-day U.S.