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African-American influence in Rock and Roll

by Erika Cox

Often very overlooked, African-Americans contributed greatly to the advent and success of rock and roll music. Little Richard was telling the truth when he said he is the real King of Rock and Roll, and if it wasn’t him then it was Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, or Bo Didley.

Rock and Roll music and many of its’ artists were heavily influenced by the sounds of black blues artists, people like Muddy Walters, Howlin Wolf, and Junior Parker to name a few.

In fact, one of the first true rock and roll songs mentioned came from Joe Turner, black blues artists, who sang, “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.” If one listens to this song by Joe Turner it should be very clear that this is the, or one of the, first true rock and roll songs. It sounds like a rock and roll song, not a blues song. The beat is up tempo and the words and rhythm of the song depict the sounds and feelings of a true rock and roll song.

Another first rock and roll song was “Rocket 88, which was a number one R&B song in 1951. This song was first recorded by the Ike Turner band not Bill Haley and the Comets. “Rocket 88” and “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” were all remade by Bill Haley and the Comets. However, it is obvious why black artists and their songs were overlooked in the development and contribution of rock and roll music.

The blatant racism that ran rampant in our society completely gave white artists all the credit, although eventually many of these black artists got the recognition they deserved later in their career or, unfortunately, after their death.

The fact that there were so many cover songs recorded by white artists of black artists’ music was also obvious and depicted the state of America at the time. Let me explain what a cover song is and why some people nowadays inaccurately state what a cover song is.

A cover song is not a remake of a particular song that was recorded and credited by another artist, usually a few years before that is what’s called a remake. A cover song is a deliberate attempt to “cover up” the recordings of one artist’s song to promote the recordings as someone else’s song. In other words, it is sort of like plagiarism. It is deliberately taking credit for someone else’s song without giving credit to the original artist, which prevents the original artist from receiving any deserved recognition.

Cover songs don’t happen in today’s world, at least it is not as prevalent as it was back in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It was very prevalent back in those days because of the abundance of racism in our society. White music listeners and those in the recording business, except for the artists, did not want to listen to the music sung by black artists and they didn’t want their children listening to the music either.

So music producers would hear a recording being made or done by a black artist, find a white artist or group to record that same song, and credit the white artist or group as the original artist(s) of that particular song or songs, without giving any recognition or credit to the black artist who first recorded the song. The concept of cover songs were done by record producers to overcome the racism in society and figure out a way to get this burgeoning, exciting music to the white audience.

So, that is why Little Richard always makes the claim that he is the original king of rock and roll. He and others would record songs that were credited to white artists and they received no recognition for their own music.

This music was disguised and promoted as someone else’s song. The final part of what a cover song involves the fact that white artists would not only receive recognition for black artists’ songs but would also receive all the money, royalties, and fame from the song or songs. Many black artists recorded a number of songs but didn’t receive any money or royalty for their songs.

Fortunately, most of these overlooked talented black artists have now been recognized and credited for all their recordings and many people realize that the African-American influence in rock and roll music was very significant and overwhelmingly. Most white artists, especially in the 1960’s and beyond, have credited these black artists as major influences in their music careers. If it had not been for many of these black blues artists, rock and roll would have never came into existence.

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