Teaching Guide: Exploring the Beginnings of Rock ‘n’ Roll

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Rock 'n' Roll: Beginnings to Woodstock, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Music historian William McKeen compares American airwaves to an apartheid state before rock ’n’ roll. Some musicians claim that rock combated prejudice and advanced civil rights. Discuss the reasons for such claims, using the radio program about “Tutti Frutti” and the videos of Chuck Berry and Dorothy LaBostrie.
  2. Look up the lyrics to “Memphis,” the song Chuck Berry performs in the video. Now view the photograph of the anti-Beatles group and the concert poster, listen to the radio program about “Tutti Frutti,” and read Dave Marsh’s discussion of the FBI investigation of the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie.” Explain why some perceived rock ’n’ roll as a threat and protested against it. Discuss the similarities between the controversy over rock ’n’ roll and contemporary controversies in popular culture, such as violence in video games or objectification of women in hip hop.
  3. Some thought rock ’n’ roll would be a trend that would not last—music for teens and tweens. Using three of the primary sources in this set, explain rock ’n’ roll’s endurance, including why it might appeal to all kinds of listeners.

Classroom activities

William S. Henry’s 1967 poster demonstrates the important relationship between rock ’n’ roll and design, from concert posters to album art. Form small groups of students and assign to each group one of the musical artists mentioned here: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Carole King, “Big Mama” Thornton, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Beatles, the Kingsmen, Martha and the Vandellas, Bo Diddley, Lee Michaels, Bob Dylan, and Richie Havens. Each group will research their musical artist and create a concert poster or album cover.

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