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Coined by Black Culture

Rock and Roll: Coined by Black Culture

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that white Americans could legally segregate themselves from Africans and their descendants. The decision instituted legal "dehumanizing practices" of "separate but unequal" treatment toward citizens who formerly had been enslaved.

An importantly powerful resource that Africans used to help survive the new "nightmare" was music. Within the culture, some Africans could be heard singing a strange new song of lament. It served as a release valve from heavy burdens, expressed in interpersonal art form. Its expressions ranged from self-pity to deep intimacy. Eventually, a black professional minstrel show performer, the legendary Ma Rainey, discovered and coined the secular music as The Blues!

It was also around the turn of the twentieth century that blues songs began to be captured on paper; and then became preserved through published sheet music sales. W.C. Handy's Memphis Blues was among the first blues songs to be published.

In 1920, Perry Bradford, a determined blues songwriter, finally convinced Okeh Records executives that the "Negro working class" was ready to purchase the new music style called The Blues. Bradford's strategy was to produce phonographs that featured his blues compositions, sung by females accompanied by a (rhythm) jazz band. He struck gold with his own, Crazy Blues featuring Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds. Bradford changed the course of history!

Perry Bradford's blues crusade also laid the foundation in African American culture to begin coining the phrase, "rock and roll." Around 1922, J. Berni Barbour penned a composition for a female singer, Trixie Smith, called My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll). Smith's recording is now a landmark contribution in black history and the recording industry!

Subsequently, many other blues and (jazz) rhythm songwriters and live performers gravitated to Barbour's descriptive interpersonal language, "rock" and/or "roll," in their song lyrics. Over the following decades, and certainly, in the euphoric post-WWII era of the late 1940s, use of the term in African American culture had become "settled custom." Rock and roll had become coined. It was understood and accepted as coded expressions of love, sexuality, fun, and good times!

Contact the university to learn more about the true roots of rock-and-roll music.

Rock Is Rhythm and Blues