Rock and roll music has, for the most part, been associated with white rock stars and white influence-rs. So, if you ignore the origins and foundations of rock and roll, the conclusion that rock and roll is a primarily white creation might seem justified. But it’s not. Rock music is one of many black influenced creations and genres in which they have been ostracized from. This an erasure of black history and its prominence in the today’s culture.
Let’s start with the origins of the blues. When you first hear blues some things that might come to mind are jazz, saxophones, New Orleans, slow, and smooth. And while that might be a very justified observation of a small compartment of blues, it does not at all paint an inclusive and accurate portrayal of the very historical and widely varied genre of music.
The blues were birthed in the 10’s to 20’s as a cathartic coping mechanism against discrimination. And when blues spread greater lengths during the great depression as black southerners migrated to the north, blues developed its signature saxophone, harmonica, piano, bass, and drums. But most of the founders and innovators of rock blues came along a little later as the genre developed and changed with the times. Chuck Berry being arguably one of the most prominent figures in rock, started his career in the early 50’s when he was able to meet another most influencing figure, Muddy Waters. With a connection like this he was able to sign under Chess Records, what some would call a home of these like minded blues artists. This company hosted the likes of Howlin Wolf, Willie Dixon, Etta James, and various other famous black blues artists.
Quoting rock and roll star, Rod Stewart, “It started with Chuck Berry. The first album I ever bought was Chuck’s ‘Live at the Tivoli’ and I was never the same. He was more than a legend; he was a founding father. You can hear his influence in every rock & roll band from my generation on.” Chuck Berry was one who influenced and worked with the likes of Elvis Presley and was thought of by Paul McCartney as “- one of rock and roll’s greatest poets.” When Chuck was finally released from a Mann Conviction (that people believe was an act of discrimination) bands such as The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones had released very Berry inspired music such as “Surfin' Song” and a cover of “Come On”. He had created a foot print and stepping stone in the development of rock.
Blues music started with slow smooth sounding saxophone rings, doo ops, and whining harmonicas. And as it progressed, artists like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters began to experiment with different instruments and different uses of said instruments...rock began to formulate. It’s a sad feat that blues artists and a lot of black artists in particular have been erased from the rock narrative. It’s also sad that in turn this generation has a limited cultural view of rock and might lose interest in it, in fear that it isn’t “for” them.