In 1954 I was introduced to the first 45 rpm record I had ever seen. It was my sister’s first collection of R & R and R & B music. I enjoyed looking at it, before I ever listened to it–aesthetically, a yellow and black Atlantic labeled beauty by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters. My sister was four and a half years my senior, and I looked up to her for almost everything. She was my heroine and my idol. Sure, as my big sister, she kept me disciplinarily in line and sometimes stooped to call me “idiot” or “birdbrain”, but if anyone else ever threatened her younger brother, she would defend him with resolve, even to the end. She was at her adolescent stage of life and was developing into a beautiful young woman. She was quite a great athlete, scoring 27 points in one basketball game. She was also a drum majorette. a multi-occasioned beauty contestant winner, and overall, just a very popular student. When she became 14 years old, she was dating the coolest dudes in school, and they, in my green years, became my role models. They were football, baseball, and basketball stars–cool dressers, attired in boatneck shirts, in black leather jackets, in penny loafers, pegged jeans, etc. And they listened to the best of music, by groups like the Five Keys, the Five Satins, the Heartbeats, the Flamingos, and so on.
She gingerly placed the record on her small, but seemingly amplified Zenith phonograph, and we began listening, as my eyes were cast on the spinning sensation of the 45, while I listened to “Love me, love me, love me, love me, love…” the beginning of the harmonic sound emanating mellifluously from the upcoming Drifters. The song was “Honey Love.” So, Valerie and I would play it over and over, even dance to it, until Dad entered the scene, making the statement that we should not be listening to that kind of music, not because Dad was against Black music, but because the song had many suggestive phrases in the lyrics for that time and era. After that, he said nothing more, and Val and I would dance to it repeatedly. In fact, Dad loved the Penguins, the Platters, and Nat King Cole.
It was a great time to be from the South, and the musical variety was amazing. I listened to Patti Page, the McGuire Sisters, Kay Starr, Les Paul and Mary Ford on the pop scene; I listened then to what was called hillbilly music, featuring such greats as Hank Williams, Faron Young, and Carl Smith. Rockabilly was also a part, with singers of the ilk of Gene Vincent, Jack Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and even Elvis in some of his genre. Blues figured largely, too, with artists like Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, and Sonny Boy Williamson.
I can say with affirmation that Black music was loved here in the South. Anything hinting toward prejudice is an absolute equivocation. Rhythm and Blues and Rock and Roll originated in the South. Many skilled Black singers from the South migrated to the North for better opportunities, and they brought their southern music with them. Whites from the North picked it up and ran with it. Many fine white groups or mixed groups were formed, like the Crests, the Mello Kings, the Diamonds, the Dell Vikings, the Belmonts, and the Fascinators.
To sum it up without creating an expatiation, this was the music of our generation. Locke spoke of tabula rasa, and if he is right, certainly this music has been indelibly imprinted in a young, blank mind, and that is forever. I hope it can become a vital imprint in the minds of current and subsequent generations.
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