Rock 'n' Roll: Beginnings to Woodstock

Primary Source Set

Rock ’n’ roll emerged as a new musical genre in the 1950s, blending African American traditions such as blues and gospel with white American country music and Western swing. It made an important impact on America and the world by inspiring and contributing to social and cultural change. Rock signified rebellion and young people’s rejection of their parents’ music, attitudes, and expectations. It also offered a bridge between races, classes, religions, and cultures. Before rock ’n’ roll, record companies, radio stations, concerts, and popular television variety shows were segregated, officially or unofficially. Rock ’n’ roll brought black artists and musical traditions to white artists and listeners, both in the US and overseas. For example, musicians like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf inspired young people in England who formed influential bands including the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. While male artists were most visible in the early days of rock, women including Carole King, Cynthia Weil, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, and Marion Keisker played important roles as composers, lyricists, singers, and talent scouts. Rock music addressed contemporary events and challenged conventions of music. Elvis Presley, the so-called “King of Rock ’n’ Roll,” represented and helped to popularize rock’s blending of musical styles and genres, unifying of disparate audiences, and rebellious spirit.

Additional resources for research

  1. Featured Collections, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  2. Birth of Rock, Rock and Roll: An American Story.
  3. Rock Music Timeline,
  4. The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Golden Decade 1954-1963,

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