"A Change is Gonna Come": The Role of Race and Censorship in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Revolution, 1950-1970

Emily Forrest Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Vivian Deno Butler University
Today, white, long-haired men with guitars dominate the perception of rock music. However, within the complex history of rock in popular culture, this was not always the case. Before the 1950s, due to legalized segregation of race, music was deeply dichotomized between white and black. Eventually, as African Americans migrated into cities for jobs where they were in close proximity to whites, popular cultures intertwined, leading to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. With its ‘race music’ influences, rock ‘n’ roll became a symbol of rebellion as it blurred political, sexual and racial boundaries set by the previous generation. The Oxford Research Encyclopedia suggests that rock ‘n’ roll declined in America during the late 1950s and reemerged as “rock” in the 1960s, and that the main reason for this shift was systematic censorship of many rock ‘n’ roll artists. Historian, Eric Weisbard explains that “where rock and roll was integrated and heterogeneous, rock was largely white and homogeneous” (Rock and Roll, Oxford Research Encyclopedia). The racial background of rock ‘n’ roll is extensively recorded, but when “rock ‘n’ roll” became “rock,” historians often overlook race's role in the shift. Through analysis of records, newspapers, interviews, and magazine articles, this project explores the extent to which race and media censorship contributed to the rock ‘n’ roll lull and birth of “rock” as a white genre. This project argues that rock ‘n’ roll was effaced from the public eye through censorship due to its racial undertones which allowed whitewashed “rock” to emerge.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

09:00 AM
Jordan Hall 278