Emerging as a powerful force on the American music scene in the 1950’s, rock music has evolved with the decades and now includes many variations that sound different from the likes of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.  Join Active Minds as we return to the roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll and trace its history and cultural impact through the years, and discuss its uncertain future.

Key Lecture Points

  • Rock and roll began as a new style of dance music aimed at teenagers in the 1950s, and by the end of the 1960s it had transformed the American cultural and political landscape. A blend of African-American and white musical traditions, rock and roll challenged existing social norms, including the segregation of the races. Rock and roll also became the soundtrack of a youthful generation defying the expectations of their parents.
  • The roots of rock and roll go back to rhythm and blues and country music.  Because rhythm and blues musicians were African-American and the music was considered suggestive, it was not generally accepted by white audiences.
  • The history of rock and roll includes (but is certainly not limited to) the stories of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and  the Rolling Stones.  Elvis made the new music popular with white America, notwithstanding its origins in the African American musical traditions.  And just when it appeared that the new craze was about to die out in 1959, the “British Invasion” of bands inspired by the American rock of the 1950s injected a new energy into Rock and ensured the music would endure.
  • The heyday of rock and roll is generally defined as the 1950s and 1960s, but the genre’s legacy can be seen across the landscape of American popular music through the 20th century and into the present day. The emergence of numerous subgenres, including prog rock, punk rock, grunge, and even rap, carried the influence of rock and roll beyond its initial confines.
  • In contemporary American culture, rock has largely receded from the preeminent position it once held. Today, most music charts are topped by hip-hop, R and B, and “pop” artists.

Exploration Questions

  • What makes rock and roll different from other music genres?
  • What are the origins of rock and roll?
  • How did rock and roll change American culture?

Reflective Questions

  • Who do you think is the greatest rock and roll artist of all time? Why?
  • Do you think rock is dead? Will it make a comeback if so?
  • How do you define “rock and roll”?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Miller, Steve. Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City. Da Capo Press, 2013, 320 pages. The history of Rock and Roll in Detroit.
    Click here to order
  • Browne, David. Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970. Da Capo Press, 2012. 392 pages. Insider stories about rock and roll musicians in the turbulent 60s by a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.
    Click here to order
  • Jagger, Mick. The Rolling Stones 50. Hyperion, 2012. 352 pages. A retrospective examination of the 50 year success of the Rolling Stones.
    Click here to order