Archive for May, 2015


“Rock and Roll may have turned gray, but its roots will always be black.”
—Jimmy Peacock

“Well Nashville had country music
but Memphis had the soul
Lord, the white boy had the rhythm
and that started rock and roll
And I was here when it happened
don’t y’all think I ought to know . . .

I watched Memphis give birth
to Rock and Roll.”

—Carl Perkins, “Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll”
(To view a photo of the original
Sun Studio Million Dollar Quartet
with a video of this song by Carl Perkins, click here.)
(To learn more about the Million Dollar Quartet,
see the Addenda section at the end of this post.)

Original Sun Studio Million Dollar Quartet in December 1956

Original 1956 Sun Studio Million Dollar Quartet: (l-r) Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash (to magnify, click on the photo)

In my preceding post titled “The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Part II: Pop Music of the 1950s” I discussed some of the popular music that I heard and listened to during that decade of my youth.

In this post I had intended to discuss the 1950’s Rock and Roll music that dominated the second half of that decade. However, since it became so complex I realized that I had to limit this post to the Delta roots of Rock and Roll during the fifties.

Although the 1950s are often portrayed as an ideal, wholesome, stable, peaceful, and uneventful period, that rather romantic perspective is not entirely accurate. Besides my own personal life-changing experiences mentioned in my preceding post on Pop music of the 1950s, there were other life-changing social and historical events taking place during that decade.

Some of these include: the integration of blacks and whites in the U.S. Armed Services ordered by President Harry Truman in 1948; the Korean Conflict from 1950 to 1953 (humorously but not always realistically portrayed in the popular 1970’s TV series M*A*S*H); the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation in American public schools; the ensuing Civil Rights Movement, especially the 1957 Central High School Integration Crisis in our capital city of Little Rock, Arkansas, which captured headlines around the world for two years or more; the beginning of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, including the space race, with the Soviets launching the first satellite in orbit around the earth called Sputnik, and the United States detonating the first airborne hydrogen bomb; and many other such events of national and international significance and concern.

As indicated by the opening quote above from Carl Perkins, that decade is usually considered the beginning of the style of music which came to be known as “Rock and Roll.” Although some music critics will disagree with Perkins’ assertion that Memphis was the birthplace of Rock and Roll, it must be admitted that both Memphis music recorder and promoter Sam Phillips and his Sun Studio did have a powerful influence on the birth and early development of R&R. (To learn more about Sam Phillips and Sun Studio, see the links in the Sources section at the end of this post.)

This was especially true for the youngsters, like me, throughout the Mid-South who began to listen to that group of musicians and their style of music which was early called “Rockabilly,” in reference to its roots in black Blues, Rhythm and Blues, and Spirituals, and white Country-Western (“Hillbilly”), Gospel, and Pop music.

As indicated, it is those early Delta roots of Rock and Roll that I intend to address in this post. But the post is not really meant to be a factual history of the birth and development of Rock and Roll. That subject can be easily accessed online through Wikipedia articles such as “Rock and Roll” and “1950s in Music.” Rather, this post is supposed to be a general presentation of some of the early 1950’s Rock and Roll performers and songs that served as part of the “soundtrack” of my teenage years during my formative high school and college days.

My Personal History
of the Roots of Rock and Roll Music

“One Mint Julep”— The Clovers. Late 1951. First of these [Black Rhythm and Blues songs] which I remember listening to on radio [in early 1950s]. Group produced hits in R&B field in early fifties (Bobby Vee and Bobby Vinton—white pop artists covered their material). One big hit left in 1959, ‘Love Potion Number 9’ which was still being performed by rock groups in 1970’s. Cross-over hit popular with whites also.”
—Entry in my late 1970’s personal history
of the origin and development of Rock and Roll music.
(To hear this early 1950’s song by the Clovers, click here.)
(To learn more about this song from Wikipedia, click here.)

The Clovers

The Clovers

Somewhere between 1977 and 1981, while I was working as a French translator and editorial assistant for an international Christian ministry in Tulsa, I was confronted with an interesting question about Roll and Roll music.

Since I was working with a group of men who were about fifteen years younger than I, one day they began to question and debate among themselves, “Who started Rock and Roll?”

As I listened, I could not believe the “answers” they were suggesting, such as Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Seeger, etc. Finally, since like Carl Perkins, I was “there when Rock and Roll was born,” I could not help but interject my opinions into the conversation.

Surprisingly, either they did not understand me or they did not believe me. It seemed that I was talking about people and songs and music they had never heard of. So as a professional copyeditor, “The guardian of precision, the protector of the facts, a professional perfectionist dedicated to the idea that you can believe what you read (From Manuscript to Book),” after work I headed to the Tulsa library to research the subject and prove my point.

After hours and hours of research (which could have been done in a few minutes with today’s technology) I had gathered enough information to fill four or five single-spaced pages (typed on an old worn-out Underwood portable typewriter) and copied enough music to fill both sides of  four cassette tapes (one of which is now missing). From that material, I made up a rather exhaustive history of the birth and early development of Rock and Roll as I knew it, experienced it, and recalled it.

Beginning with its primitive roots in Mississippi River Delta work chants, through early Delta Blues tunes often played on nothing more than a single wire on a broom handle attached to the post of a shotgun house, through true Delta Blues music played on a guitar and/or “French harp” (harmonica), and Rhythm and Blues with a larger band and more sophisticated musicians I listed dozens of examples of the movement and development of the Blues from the Delta to Memphis and then upriver to places like Chicago, and downriver to New Orleans.

I particularly traced that movement to Memphis and to Sam Phillips and Sun Records and the small group of black musicians whose music Phillips recorded in an effort to promote it to larger audiences since at the time white recording studios would not record black music, and white radio stations would not play it. From there I showed how Phillips and others began to record some black Delta Blues musicians like B.B. King, “Muddy” Waters, and “Howlin’ Wolf.” As Phillips once said: “When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.’” He was obviously not alone in that opinion, especially among young white Deltans like me.

Sam Phillips in 1950s

Sam Phillips in the 195os

Sun Studio in Memphis

Sun Studio in Memphis

But Phillips also began to seek out white performers (like Elvis Presley) who could “cover” black music for white audiences, a subject I will discuss in my next post. (One of those white performers for another recording label cited in my previous post on “Pop Music of the 1950s” was Pat Boone, a squeaky-clean, white-buck-shoe singer who “covered” several black musicians with hits like “I Almost Lost My Mind,” which I also offered in a video by Fats Domino.) Phillips also recorded white musicians like Carl Perkins who could write and perform their own versions of Rock and Roll songs such as “Blue Suede Shoes” (1955) and “Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (1986) quoted above.

As an example of the original black music later “covered” or copied by white performers, in my personal history of the origin of Rock and Roll I inserted an entry on Louis Jordan and his R&B band from the Arkansas Delta titled “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” recorded in 1946! This is what I wrote about that song:

“Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”—Louis Jordan, vocal and alto sax and band. Jan. 23, 1946 in New York. Louis Jordan was probably the most successful black recording artist of the forties. First big hit—million-seller (extremely rare for black acts in those years). Also recorded with Bing Crosby (1944), Ella Fitzgerald (1945), and Louis Armstrong (1950)—strong influence on Bill Haley, who later formed a white band playing black-copied music, one of innovators of R&R music to come.” (Italics mine.)

To hear this song, click here. To learn more about Louis Jordan, click here.

Louis Jordan in 1946

Louis Jordan in 1946

I also discussed two other early 1950’s songs that in hindsight can be considered part of the “roots of Rock and Roll.”

The first one was a Delta Blues song that was released in 1952 by Muddy Waters and titled “Hoochie Coochie Man” (later featured in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers). Here is my description of it in my personal history of the roots of Rock and Roll compiled in the late 1970s:

“Hoochie Coochie Man”—Muddy Waters, vocal & guitar; Jimmie Rodgers. guitar; Little Walter, harmonica; others. Recorded 1952.”

To view this song performed by Muddy Waters, click here. To learn more about Muddy Waters, click here.

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters

Next was one by Ruth Brown titled “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” which I described as following:

“Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean”—Ruth Brown. Recorded 1953. Typical of black (Rhythm and Blues) [songs] which were listened to and popular with young whites (including me) who were ‘instigators’ of R&R by listening to and requesting such music on the radio, buying the records, dancing to the music and otherwise encouraging musicians and [music publishers] to promote R&R (though it was not yet so named—that came about 1954). Ruth Brown became about as popular in R&R as in R&B.”

To view a video of this rousing version of an “early Rock and Roll” song, click here. To learn more about Ruth Brown, click here.

Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown

Other Popular Examples of 1950’s
Roots of Rock and Roll

“Oh, life could be a dream (sh-boom)
If I could take you up in paradise up above (sh-boom)
If you would tell me I’m the only one that you love
Live could be a dream, sweetheart”
—Lyrics to “Sh-boom” 

Two other early 1950’s Rhythm and Blues or Doo-wop selections that had an influence on the birth and development of Rock and Roll and sometimes called “the first Rock and Roll record” were the following:

Jackie Brentson’s “Rocket 88” released in 1951, as noted in a Wikipedia article:

Rocket 88” (originally written as Rocket “88”) is a rhythm and blues song that was first recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 3 or 5, 1951 (accounts differ). The recording was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who were actually Ike Turner‘s Kings of Rhythm.

The record reached no.1 on the Billboard R&B chart. Many experts acknowledge its importance in the development of rock and roll music, as the first rock and roll record. (Italics mine)

To hear this song, click here.

To learn more about the recording, click here.

Jackie Brentson

Jackie Brenston

According to Wikipedia, the second recording sometimes inaccurately given credit as being “the first Rock and Roll record” was “Sh-boom” (“Life Could Be Dream”) which first appeared in 1954 and became known by every teenager of that period:

The song was first recorded on Atlantic Records‘ subsidiary label Cat Records by The Chords on March 15, 1954 and would be their only hit song. “Sh-Boom” reached #2 on the Billboard R&B charts and peaked at #9 on the pop charts. It is sometimes considered to be the first doo-wop or rock ‘n’ roll record to reach the top ten on the pop charts (as opposed to the R&B charts). This version was ranked #215 on Rolling Stones list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is the group’s only song on the list. (Italics mine)

A more traditional version was made by The Crew-Cuts for Mercury Records and was #1 on the Billboard charts in for nine weeks during August and September 1954. The single first entered the charts on July 30, 1954 and stayed for 20 weeks. The Crew-Cuts performed the song on Ed Sullivan‘s Toast of the Town on December 12, 1954. On the Cash Box magazine best-selling record charts, where both versions were combined, the song reached #1.

To hear The Chords’ (i.e., original black version), click here. To hear the Crew Cuts’ (i.e. white “cover” version) click here.

The Chords

The Chords

The Crew Cuts in 1957

The Crew Cuts in 1957

The Continuation of My Report on
Early 1950’s Rock and Roll

“You Gotta Cut That Out”—Forrest City (Ark.) Joe, vocal and harmonica; unidentified guitar. ‘If we date the previous blues about 1900-1910, then fifty years and many thousand stanzas later, this is what the Delta blues had become.”
——Entry in my late 1970’s personal history
of the origin and development of Rock and Roll music.
(To hear this later 1950’s song by Forrest City Joe, click here.)
(To learn more about Forrest City Joe and his harmonica playing, click here.)

Although I am not able to list all the entries in my personal history of the birth and development of Mississippi River Delta Blues, here is another example from the Arkansas Delta side of that interesting history, the town of Forrest City being not far from Helena, Arkansas, which had a great Blues radio show on KFFA called the King Biscuit Blues Hour.

Originally named for its sponsor King Biscuit Flour, that show, which has recently had to change its name, has become the longest-running Blues show in the United States and has featured many famous Blues artists, particularly Sonny Boy Williamson II. (To learn more about Helena and its Blues show and its Delta Cultural Center, click on the titles. To learn more about Sonny Boy Williamson II, click here.)

The Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas

The Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas

Sonny Boy Williamson II

Sonny Boy Williamson II

It was from such radio shows and stations as the one in Helena; from others in Memphis; from some across the River from our hometown in Greenville, Mississippi; and from late-night mega-watt giants such as Randy’s Record Shop on radio station WLAC in Gallitin, Tennessee, that we white teenagers in the Delta began to listen to black music in the early 1950s. This is what Wikipedia had to say under the title “The nighttime R&B years”:

“By the 1950s, however, WLAC would achieve a distinctive notoriety of its own, the nighttime station for half the nation. The station became legendary from a quartet of nighttime rhythm and blues shows . . . . Thanks to the station’s clear channel designation, the signal reached most of the Eastern and MidwesternUnited States, although African-American listeners in the Deep South were the intended audience of the programs. WLAC was particularly popular with some young white teenagers; some believe that the nightly shows laid the foundational audience for the rock and roll phenomenon of the late 1950s.” (Italics mine)

The Actual “Birth” of 1950’s Rock and Roll

“Rock and roll (often written as rock & roll or rock ‘n’ roll) is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily from a combination of predominately African-American genres such as blues, boogie woogie, jump blues, jazz, and gospel music, together with Western swing and country music. Though elements of rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until the 1950s.”
—Wikipedia article titled “Rock and Roll”

In my personal history of the roots of Rock and Roll, after discussing many other early 1950’s Blues, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll black musicians, I went on to discuss Bill Haley and the Comets who in the mid-fifties “covered” two black hits: “Rock Around the Clock” and “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”

Both of these recordings became national sensations, especially when the first was played in the opening scenes of a popular 1955 movie titled Blackboard Jungle. (To view a video of “Rock around the Clock” with scenes from a 1950’s movie, click on the title. To view a video of “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” click on the title.)

I also noted how a white Cleveland disk jockey named Alan Freed took the titles of those two massive hits to make up the name for this new type of music and called it “Rock and Roll.”

Bill Haley and His Comets

Bill Haley and His Comets

The rest . . . as they say . . . is history—and I recorded it in words and on tape for my sadly misinformed younger seekers of truth whom I later realized were not questioning the beginning of Rock and Roll music but of “Rock” music, which was and remains a different animal from a different era than mine, one with which I as a child of the 1950s had neither interest nor contact—and still don’t.

Conclusion to My Report on
the Roots of 1950’s Rock and Roll

“Shake, Rattle & Roll”—Joe Turner, vocal. Recorded Feb 15, 1954. This is it! R&R is born! ‘Covered’ by Bill Haley, himself a product of Louis Jordan and other black musicians, this piece, along with soon-to-follow ‘Rock around the Clock,’ produced not only a new craze in music (movies like “Blackboard Jungle” and the ‘Wild One” with Marlon Brando further popularized this type of music among the young—while making ‘heroes’ and ‘cool cats’ out of types such as Brando, James Dean, etc.) but also gave this new crazy music its title Rock (around the Clock) and Roll (Shake, Rattle and).”
—My entry for “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Joe Turner
(To hear Joe Turner’s original version of this song, click here.)

Joe Turner

Joe Turner

My hard work back in the late 1970s in researching and compiling that history of the birth and development of early Rock and Roll music from the Mississippi River Delta Blues was not a total loss.

One of the authors whose books on the subject of the Delta Blues I consulted and quoted was Dr. William Ferris (see Sources section at the end of this post), whom I learned had recently helped to establish the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

When I wrote to Bill Ferris to query him about my research into Blues music as the foundation for Rock and Roll, we began a sixteen-year correspondence that lasted until he was chosen by then U.S. president Bill Clinton to come to Washington to head the National Endowment for the Humanities.

From that relationship between Bill Ferris and me I began to receive a free subscription to the Southern Register, the regular newsletter of the Center. I continue to receive that newsletter which I quickly devour, including the section on the Center’s Blues magazine titled Living Blues. (To learn more about Bill Ferris, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, and the Living Blues magazine, click on the titles.)

That foundation for 1950’s Rock and Roll was certainly laid for most of us teens from the Delta beginning in the early fifties and carrying on through our high school years.

From that foundation and the popularity of the black music we were listening to, white recording studios began to publish white “covers” of black music, and white radio stations began to play white “covers” of many of the black songs. Eventually records of the black musicians themselves began to become commonplace, even nationwide.

Thus was born Rock and Roll.

And like Carl Perkins, I was there at its birth!


The Passing of Delta Blues Legend B.B. King

This post is dedicated to the memory of Delta Blues legend B.B. King who died while I was composing it on May 14, 2015, the fifty-ninth anniversary of my graduation from high school in the Delta in 1956. King’s guitar was called Lucille after a women whom King claimed was the cause of a fight that resulted in a fire that burned down the juke joint in which he was playing in the tiny Delta community of Twist, Arkansas.

Our 1956 High School Graduation
and the Million Dollar Quartet

“Four legendary rockstars came together one night only, but audiences can experience it over and over again in Celebrity Attractions’ last show for the Broadway season. Million Dollar Quartet. The show chronicles a December of 1956 day when the ‘Father of Rock N Roll’ Sam Phillips brought together Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash for a jam session. The star-studded quartet became known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Tickets went on sale for the Tony Award Winning play May 1. The play will run May 26-31.”
—“Youthful Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins
and Jerry Lee Lewis are coming to Tulsa,”
Sapulpa Daily Herald, May 13, 2015

May 13, 2015 Sapulpa Daily Herald article on appearance of the Million Dollar Quartet tribute artists in Tulsa, Oklahoma

May 13, 1015, Sapulpa Daily Herald article on the appearance of the Million Dollar Quartet tribute artists in Tulsa, Oklahoma (to magnify and read the caption, click on the photo)

Recently, on May 14, 2015, I sent my former high school classmate Pat Scavo of Hot Springs (still known to us as Patsy Mc) an email reminding her that it was on that day that we graduated from McGehee High School in 1956—fifty-nine years ago!

In that email, I included a clipping from the Sapulpa Daily Herald announcing an upcoming play in Tulsa about the Million Dollar Quartet, a group of young tribute artists who portray four 1950’s “Rockabilly” stars in a historic jam session arranged by Sam Phillips at his Sun Studio in Memphis on December 4, 1956—the year we graduated from high school.

For months Patsy Mc has been sending me updates on the Million Dollar Quartet and reviews of the performances by the group that she and others from our class have attended in places like Memphis, Tennessee, and Maumelle, Arkansas, near Little Rock.

On April 28 Patsy Mc sent me a link to a video of the Million Dollar Quartet performing live on David Letterman’s Late Show. To view this performance, click on the link below.

On April 29 she sent me a report on the MDG she had seen with a link to this review of another such performance as reviewed in the Pueblo Chieftain: http://www.chieftain.com/entertainment/music/3531841-120/played-production-carl-cast

To learn more about the Million Dollar Quartet from Wikipedia, go to:

To visit the Million Dollar Quartet’s official Web site, go to:

I will discuss Sam Phillips and the Sun Studio musicians more fully in the following post on 1950’s Rock and Roll.

Video Series on the History of Rock and Roll

For a great video series titled “History of Rock and Roll,” in five parts averaging about ten-minutes each, go to this link and then click on each succeeding part:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-j2rILarYA .


The video of Carl Perkins singing “Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll” with a photo of the Million-Dollar Quartet of Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis was taken from:

The video of the Clovers performing “One Mint Julep” was taken from:

The Wikipedia article about the song “One Mint Julep” was taken from:

The photo of the Clovers was taken from:

The photo of Sam Phillips was taken from:

The photo of Sun Studio was taken from:

The Wikipedia articles titled “Rock and Roll” and “1950s in Music” can be accessed at:


The video of Pat Boone singing “I Almost Lost My Mind” was taken from:

The video of Fats Domino playing and singing “I Almost Lost My Mind” was taken from:

The video of Louis Jordan playing “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” was taken from:

The photo of Louis Jordan was taken from:

The Wikipedia article about Louis Jordan can be accessed at:

The video of Muddy Waters playing “Hoochie Coochie Man” was taken from:

The Wikipedia article about Muddy Waters from which his photo was taken can be accessed at:

The video of Ruth Brown singing, “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” was taken from:

The Wikipedia article about Ruth Brown was taken from:

The photo of Ruth Brown was taken from:

The video of “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brentson was taken from:

The photo of Jackie Brentson was taken from:

The Wikipedia article on the song “Rocket 88” can be accessed at:

The Wikipedia article about Jackie Brentson can be accessed at:

The lyrics to the Crew Cuts’ version of the song “Sh-boom” (“Life Could Be a Dream”) were taken from:

The photo of the Crew Cuts was taken from:

The video of the Chords’ version of “Sh-boom” (“Life Could Be a Dream”) was taken from:

The photo of the Chords was taken from:

The video of the Crew Cuts’ version of “Sh-boom” (“Life Could Be a Dream”) was taken from:

The videos of Bill Haley and the Comets playing “Rock around the Clock” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” were taken from:


The Wikipedia article on the song “Sh-boom” can be accessed at:

The Wikipedia article about Bill Haley and the Comets with their photo was taken from:

The video of Forrest City Joe playing “You Gotta Cut That Out” was taken from:

The Wikipedia article about Forrest City Joe was taken from:

The links to Helena, Arkansas, the King Biscuit Blues show, and the Delta Cultural Center can be accessed at:



The photo of the Delta Cultural Center was taken from:

The photo of Sonny Boy Williamson II was taken from:

The video of Joe Turner’s original version of “Shake, Rattle and Roll” was taken from:

The articles on William Ferris, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, and the Living Blues magazine can be accessed at:




A biography of William Ferris can be accessed at:

A book by William Ferris titled Blues from the Delta (1970, 1978, 1988) which I consulted in composing my personal history of the roots of Rock and Roll is referred to in:


The article and the submitted photo about the upcoming appearance of the Million Dollar Quartet in Tulsa were taken from the Sapulpa Daily Herald on May 13, 2015.

The Million Dollar Quartet’s official Web site can be accessed at:

The five-part video “History of Rock and Roll” can be accessed beginning with the first part at:


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“We’ll let the magic
Take us away
Back to the feelings
We shared when they played

In the still of the night
Hold me darlin’, hold me tight, oh
So real, so right
Lost in the fifties tonight”
—Ronnie Milsap

As I noted in the past two posts, over time the music we listened to in our youth and young adulthood often becomes the “soundtrack of our lives”—especially as we grow older and begin to look backward to the simpler, happier days of our existence.

Often, these memory “flashbacks” are triggered by music, particularly by a certain song—and sometimes it is the reverse, a certain memory of a past event will trigger the music being played at the time that event took place.

And, so often, as the old song above says, we become “Lost in the Fifties,” or whatever decade it was in which we spent our happiest, most carefree days. (To listen to this song sung by Ronnie Milsap with its emphasis on returning mentally and emotionally to happier times, click here.)

In my previous post I examined the music that I heard and listened to during my childhood days of the 1940s in my rural birthplace of Selma, Arkansas.

Me about age nine just before we moved from Selma to McGehee

Me about age nine just a year before we moved from Selma to McGehee

As noted, that simple, idyllic life came to an abrupt and totally unexpected end in 1948 when at age ten I was forced to move with my family to the nearest town of McGehee, Arkansas, about fifteen miles away.

There I entered an entirely new and different lifestyle and environment among a world of strangers. Other than my immediate family, I knew only one other person in the city of McGehee, and especially in the McGehee Elementary School: Jarrell Rial, the cousin of a Selma friend whom I had come to know when he came out to visit his Selma relatives every Sunday afternoon.

Me about the time we moved from Selma to McGehee

Me about the time we moved from Selma to McGehee

Besides my stressful experience in being uprooted against my will from my familiar and beloved childhood existence, there were other “coming of age” experiences in that decade, each of which had a profound effect on the direction of my life: For example, the death of my father in 1954; my graduation from high school in May 1956; my enrollment in Ouachita Baptist College in September 1956; my graduation from OBC in June 1960; and my enrollment in graduate school at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in the autumn of that same year.

Me at graduation from McGehee High School in May 1956

Me at graduation from McGehee High School in May 1956

There were also huge, sweeping, and often (to many, especially adults) disturbing changes in the music of that decade, which was actually supposed to be the subject of this post. I had intended to address the birth and development of Rock and Roll music in this decade, which marked my own development from a country-born and country-raised child, to a small-town adolescent and teenager, and then to a college and graduate school student and young adult.

However, I soon realized that the subject of all the different types of music of the 1950s was so complex and so involved that due to my failing health and other complications, I simply could not devote the time and energy necessary to present it as I would like.

So, instead I decided to break the subject of the soundtrack of my life during the 1950s into two parts, beginning with the still innocent, wholesome, and entertaining Pop music of that fertile decade. The origin, development, and changing nature and course of Rock and Roll music will have to wait for the next post, if I am able to compose it.

Meanwhile, here are just a few examples of some of my favorite Pop musicians and songs from that historic and ever-changing period in my youth.

List of Some of My Favorite
Pop Musicians and Songs of the 1950s

“‘Popular music, or ‘classic pop,’ dominated the charts
for the first half of the 1950s.
Vocal-driven classic pop replaced 
Big Band/Swing
at the end of World War II,
although it often used orchestras to back the vocalists.”
—“Music History of the United States in the 1950s”

To simplify matters, I chose to break down the pop music of the 1950s into categories of individual male singers, individual female singers, male groups, female groups, mixed groups, and instrumentalists.

Each of these categories includes examples of some of the most popular musicians and songs I heard or listened to in that decade. Obviously the list (which is primarily based on a Wikipedia article titled “Music History of the United States in the 1950s”) is not intended to be complete in regard to the musicians of that period or their hits. However, the ones listed are accompanied by the actual URLs. You can simply click on the ones that interest you most to hear and see them played on YouTube videos, often accompanied by nostalgic 1950’s scenes. Other musicians and other songs of that period may be located by referring to the Addenda and Sources sections at the end of the post or by simply Googling them by performer and song title.

Into these lists of sample musicians and selections, I have inserted a few notes on particular ones that always bring back personal memories related to them, what I called in my previous posts “Musical ‘Memory Triggers’ and ‘Time-Travel Transporters.’”

Note: An asterisk (*) indicates those pop singers who also sang Rock and Roll. As noted at the conclusion of the Wikipedia article on music and musicians of the 1950s: “Even Rock ‘n’ Roll icon Elvis Presley spent the rest of his career alternating between Pop and Rock (‘Love Me Tender,’ ‘Loving You,’ ‘I Love You Because’). Pop would resurface on the charts in the mid-1960s as ‘Adult Contemporary.’)”

But although many of the Elvis songs I heard during the 1950s were actually better classified as Pop, I left my discussion of Elvis and his music for the next post on Rock and Roll music of the 1950s. However, I did address this subject earlier in my post titled “My First Encounter with Elvis and His Music,” which was about an incident that occurred in the mid-1950s.

Elvis Presley in about 1955

Elvis Presley in about 1955

Individual Male Singers

“With his blessings from above
Serve it generously with love
One man, one wife
One love through life

Memories are made of this
Memories are made of this”
—1950’s tune sung by Dean Martin

Tony Bennett (“Because of You”)

*Pat Boone (“April Love”)

During this period I worked at a McGehee dime store which sold 45-rpm records that were played all day long. Besides hearing this song by Pat Boone played every day for weeks, I also heard his hits “Love Letters in the Sand” and “I Almost Lost My Mind.” Every time I hear these songs, I think of that dime store from long ago. (To see a video of Fats Domino’s New Orleans Blues version of this song, click here.)

Pat Boone

Pat Boone

Nat “King” Cole (“Mona Lisa”)

Perry Como (“Catch a Falling Star”)

Bing Crosby (“True Love,” with Grace Kelly)

*Bobby Darin (“Dream Lover”)

Eddie Fisher (“Anytime”)

Tennessee Ernie Ford (“Sixteen Tons”)

For some reason, every time I hear this immensely popular old tune, I remember our physical education class picking up trash under the bleachers at the high school football field. What the connection was between that song and that task I still don’t know. Maybe it was our way of “loading sixteen tons” of trash!

Frankie Laine (“Mule Train”)

When I was a freshman at Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, there was a popular young man from Malvern, Arkansas, who did a hilarious skit in the amateur talent shows. In that humorous skit he did a dead-on, dead-pan karaoke rendition of this song using a funny little kid’s cowboy hat and toy whip which he popped at just the right moments to match the pops in the song. Again, why I still recall that skit every time I hear that old song now almost sixty years later, I have no idea!

Dean Martin (“That’s Amore”)

This is another one of the hugely popular songs that were played endlessly at the McGehee dime store where I worked in the mid-1950s. Two others by Dean Martin that were played over and over in the store were “Memories Are Made of This” (one of my favorite pop songs of the 1950s), and “Innamorata,” which I chose as my favorite song of 1956, the year I graduated from high school. As such, it was featured on the little 45-rpm-record table place marker at our senior banquet. Why, of all the many Rock and Roll songs—and especially all the Elvis Presley songs—that I heard in 1956 I should choose this love song by Dean Martin as my favorite, I have no idea, except as proof of my being (even then) a “hopeless romantic and a helpless neurotic.” All of these Dean Martin songs and many more bring back warm memories of my younger years, which is why I own and play CDs of them at home and in the car.

Dean Martin

Dean Martin

Guy Mitchell (“Singin’ the Blues”)

Johnnie Ray (“Just Walkin’ in the Rain”)

Frank Sinatra (“Young at Heart”)

I liked this song so much that I memorized the lyrics and sang it without ever seeing the words. I can still do that though I am now far from being young—or even young at heart!

*Andy Williams (“Butterfly”)

Billy Williams (“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”)

According to Wikipedia, this “Classic 1957 revival of the Fats Wallers 1935 original only reached #22 in the UK but was a US #3 hit and earned Billy a gold disc.” Every time I hear it sung (even by Elvis on CD) it takes me back to the summer of 1957 when a carload of us college kids between our freshman and sophomore years drove back and forth between McGehee and Monticello, Arkansas (about twenty-five miles each way) to attend summer school at what was then Arkansas A&M. One of those students turned out to be the sister of Cullen Gannaway from Arkansas City. Cullen, whom I had yet to meet, later became my best friend at Ouachita Baptist College and even the Best Man in my wedding in December 1962. So unknown to me then, this song would have a small part in my romance and eventual wedding six years later and thus also a part of the “soundtrack” of my courtship and early marriage to be listed in my future post on the music of the early 1960s. (See my earlier post titled “The Peacock Love Story and the Passing of a Friend.”)

Individual Female Singers

“I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see
Introduced her to my loved one and while they were dancing
My friend stole my sweetheart from me

I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz
Now I know just how much I have lost
Yes, I lost my little darling on the night they were playing
The beautiful Tennessee Waltz”
—1950’s tune sung by Patti Page

Theresa Brewer (“‘Til I Waltz Again with You”)

Another of the many Pop songs played endlessly at the McGehee dime store where I worked in the mid-50s. I loved all of her entertaining songs delivered in her cute, pert, chipper manner and her unique squeaky little-girl voice.

Rosemary Clooney (“This Old House”)

Doris Day (“Secret Love”)

*Connie Francis (“Among My Souvenirs”)

*Gogi Grant (“The Wayward Wind”)

For some reason every time I hear this old song played I immediately think of sitting in study hall in the auditorium of the McGehee High School in the mid-50s. What the connection between the song and that place is, I have no idea because that was decades before the time of portable music players, which would not have been allowed in study hall anyway.

Kitty Kallen (“Little Things Mean a Lot”)

Peggy Lee (“Fever”)

Julie London (“Cry Me a River”)

This one (and indeed each of the songs by Julie London) always takes me back to my freshman year at Ouachita Baptist College in 1956-57 where one of the guys on our dorm floor played her album continuously. At the time, Julie London was a sultry-voiced sexual icon who was married to actor Jack Webb, who played L.A. detective Joe Friday on the now-classic TV show Dragnet.

Julie London

Julie London

Patti Page (“Tennessee Waltz”)

Patti Page was a native of Claremore, Oklahoma, originally named Clara Ann Fowler, who took her professional name from a dairy that sponsored her local radio show. She had numerous hit songs during the 1950s and beyond. Every time I hear any of them (which is often since her cassette album is one I carry with me to the blood center I visit every two weeks), I think of two places in De Ridder, Louisiana: one, a typical 1950’s hamburger joint where her music was played constantly on the jukebox, and the other an old-fashioned drugstore, both of which Jarrell Rial, my Selma-McGehee buddy, and I visited often during our National Guard training every summer at Fort Polk. A former Marine who married Mari’s cousin used to take great delight in telling all the soldiers in our unit how he drove by that drugstore one night and saw Jarrell and me eating ice cream cones and reading comic books—while probably listening to Patti Page, the “Singin’ Rage”! A couple of young Southern Baptist “Swingers”!

Patti Page

Patti Page

Dinah Shore (“Lavender Blue”)

Kay Starr (“Wheel of Fortune”)

This song always reminds me of a certain diner in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where three of my McGehee High School Band buddies and I used to eat breakfast while staying at the nearby Como Hotel (no longer standing) during our annual spring band festivals in the early 1950s. The popular song must have been playing there at least once when I first heard it, and it was permanently engraved on my “memory board.”

Male Groups

“Tho’ summer turns to winter
And the present disappears,
The laughter we were glad to share
Will echo through the years. 

Tho’ other nights and other days
May find us gone our separate ways,
We will have these moments to remember . . .”
—“Moments to Remember” sung by the Four Lads,
the class song of the Class of 1956,
McGehee High School

Ames Brothers (“The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane”)

Four Aces (“Love Is a Many Splendored Thing”)

Four Lads (“Moments to Remember”)

As indicated by the opening quote above, this tune was the class song of our 1956 McGehee High School graduating class, which I quoted in my earlier blog post about our senior class trip using the title, “Moments to Remember/Selma Methodist Church Update.”

The Four Lads

The Four Lads

Hilltoppers (“P.S. I Love You”)

I recall hearing this group sing this song and others when they came to Ouachita Baptist College to perform with Stan Kenton and his band in about 1959-60. Joe Dempsey, my longtime friend, Ouachita classmate, and the designer of this blog, recently sent me an email stating: “I well remember Stan Kenton coming to OBC. There’s an interesting tidbit to that visit. There was a 1954 graduate of El Dorado High School [Joe’s high school alma mater], Bob Knight who played trombone in that band. The Firehouse Five Plus Two also visited OBC a couple of times. Links to those guys [appear below]:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1l04Hn9s88  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x87IQhuQ-WY and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIUU78VaQQU

The Hilltoppers

The Hilltoppers


Stan Kenton

Stan Kenton

Mills Brothers (“Glow Worm”)

The Mills Brothers were a black singing group whose smooth four-part harmony greatly influenced many white singers and groups of the 1950s, including Dean Martin, perhaps (after Elvis Presley) my favorite singer of that decade.

Mitch Miller and Chorus (“The Yellow Rose of Texas”)

When Mari and I were courting we became acquainted with this group on a weekly 1961 TV show called “Sing Along With Mitch.” It was somewhat unusual since it featured a beautiful and talented young black female lead singer named Leslie Uggams, which was somewhat controversial in those early days of black and white integration in the media.

Female Groups

“Oh Lord, won’t you tell me why
I love that fella so
He doesn’t want me
But I’ll never, never, never, never let him go

Sincerely, oh you know how I love you
I’ll do anything for you
Please say you’ll be mine”
—“Sincerely,” as sung by
The McQuire Sisters

Chordettes (“Mister Sandman”)

Fontaine Sisters (“Hearts of Stone”)

McGuire Sisters (“Sincerely”)

Mari and I still see these lovely ladies on those public television oldies shows and after more than sixty years can still sing along with the lyrics to all of their most popular hits.

The McGuire Sisters

The McGuire Sisters

Duet/Mixed Groups

“Now the hacienda’s dark
The town is sleeping
Now the time has come to part
The time for weeping

Vaya con dios, my darling
Vaya con dios, my love”
—“Vaya con Dios” as sung and played by
Les Paul and Mary Ford

Les Paul and Mary Ford (“Vaya con Dios,” i.e., “Go with God”)

Still one of our favorites of all the dozens of musical groups we heard during the 1950s. According to Wikipedia:

“[Les Paul] recorded with his wife Mary Ford in the 1950s, and they sold millions of records. Among his many honors, Paul is one of a handful of artists with a permanent, stand-alone exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is prominently named by the music museum on its website as an ‘architect’ and a ‘key inductee’ along with Sam Phillips and Alan Freed. Les Paul is the only person to be included in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.” Although classified as Rock and Rock artists, Les Paul and Mary Ford were also considered Pop musicians.

When Andy Herren learned that I was making up a post on 1950’s Pop music, he sent me the following message about Les Paul and Mary Ford:

“If you can, check out Les Paul and Mary Ford’s ‘How High the Moon’ in 1951. We heard it on KVSA back when. If you listen to Les play with empathy, you realize how good he is. He invented what he called the ‘Pauleriser’ which let him play as a second guitar and then a third and fourth. I think Mary is singing with herself too. Hearing them takes me back to riding in a car with the windows down on a gravel road, and the gravel making the car jerk back and forth.”

Les Paul and Mary Ford

Les Paul and Mary Ford

The Platters (“The Great Pretender”)

One of the most popular mixed groups (there was one female singer with a quarter of male singers) in the 1950s who produced a long list of hits during that period. One of those hits was titled “Twilight Time.” This song (though perhaps not the Platters’ version) was the closing musical sign-off of our local daytime radio station, KVSA, located between McGehee and Dermott, Arkansas, so we heard it often. (See the entry about KVSA in the Addenda Section).



Weavers (“Goodnight Irene”)


“On a picnic morning
Without a warning
I looked at you
And somehow I knew . . . .”

“It must have been moonglow
Way up in the blue
It must have been moonglow
That led me straight to you”
—Lyrics to the songs “Picnic” and “Moonglow”
from the popular 1955 movie Picnic
starring William Holden and Kim Novac

Percy Faith (“Poor People of Paris”)

An entertaining version of the Percy Faith instrumental hit with photos of the covers of 1950’s magazines including views of celebrities of that time such as Pat Boone, Princess Grace Kelly, and sexpot movie star Jayne Mansfield.

Percy Faith (“Theme from Moulin Rouge”)

Great musical video with wonderful photos of French-style paintings and posters of the Moulin Rouge (“Red Mill”) cabaret in Paris in days gone by.

Bert Kaempfert, (“Wonderland by Night”)

A song I heard many, many times during the 1950s.

“Moonglow-Theme from Picnic” (composed by Morris Stolof)

An unforgettable scene of William Holden and Kim Novac dancing to the music of the film Picnic. I first saw this classic 1955 movie in Monticello. Arkansas, where my cousin Donald Peacock was the projectionist, and have loved it ever since. It always brings back a lot of memories, such as the quote from a computer-generated Clint Eastwood character in the kids’ movie Rango, “This isn’t heaven, kid. If it were we’d be eatin’ Pop-Tarts with Kim Novac.” Yeah.

Poster of the 1955 film Picnic

Poster of the 1955 film Picnic

Perez Prado (“Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”)

I first heard this song played by the Harry James orchestra in 1957. Since my Monticello cousin Donald and I both played trumpet in our school bands, we tried to learn to play this tune together, even composing the sheet music for it which I still have in my old trumpet case. (To learn more about Donald, see my earlier post titled, “My Cousin Donald and His Early Years.”)

Nelson Riddle (“Lisbon Antigua”)

A musical video of the Nelson Riddle version of this song with lovely photos of the quaint city from the Lisbon tourist bureau.

Hugo Winterhalter (“Canadian Sunset”)

This song was later also recorded by Andy Williams, a pop singer whose music I heard often throughout the 1950s and beyond. To hear his version of this song with photos of him and beautiful scenes throughout Canada, click here.


In the past, my McGehee High School Class of 1956 classmate Pat Scavo (known to us then as Patsy McDermott) has sent me links to free old-time music which is divided into decades and played radio-style in random order.

Here are two such links for music of the 1950s along with many other musical links to other decades, old radio and TV shows, etc.:



I hope you can access these sites and pick out the songs from the era you wish to listen to. I also hope they will “bring back [your] dream divine” so that you can also “live it over again.”

To view a brief nostalgic 1953 video about KVSA, the Voice of Southeast Arkansas, located between McGehee and Dermott, with a background of the type Pop music it played in the 1950s (now called “American Standard” music) go to:

To view a sideshow on AOL about the fate of twenty music stars from the 1950s and 60s (including Doris Day, etc.), go to:

On April 27, 2015, my cousin Kay Barrett Bell sent me an alternate version of Ronnie Milsap’s “Lost in the Fifties Tonight” with great scenes of 1950’s people; stores and drive-ins; automobiles; dress; events and sports; games and toys; cigarettes and snacks; celebrities and political figures; products and old ads; movie/TV stars and comedians (like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, James Dean, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca); grade-B cowboys such as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, etc.); and more, all found at: http://safeshare.tv/w/FEDEwZHZXu

NOTE: This video begins with a brief vocal introduction, which may be racial in nature, followed by two images of 1950’s white high school students (probably at the time of the Integration Crisis at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas) demonstrating against the integration of black and white students in 1957. Viewer discretion is advised.  


The lyrics to “Lost in the Fifties Tonight” were taken from:
Songwriters: SEALS, TROY HAROLD/REID, MIKE/PARRIS, FREDERICKE, Lost In The Fifties Tonight lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group at:

The two photos of me as a boy in Selma, Arkansas, and as an elementary student in McGehee, Arkansas, were taken from personal sources.

The photo of me as a graduate of McGehee High School was taken from the 1956 MHS yearbook.

The quote about Pop music in the 1950s was taken from: “Music History of the United States in the 1950s” at:

The photo of the 1950’s Elvis Presley was taken from my earlier post titled “My First Encounter with Elvis and His Music” at:

The lyrics to “Memories Are Made of This” were taken from:

The photo of Pat Boone was taken from:

The photo of Dean Martin was taken from:

The lyrics to “The Tennessee Waltz” were taken from:

The photo of Julie London was taken from:

The photo of Patti Page was taken from:

The lyrics to “Moments to Remember” were taken from:

The photo of the Four Lads was taken from:

The photo of the Hilltoppers and bandleader Stan Kenton were taken from pages 124 and 125 of the 1960 Ouachitonian, the year of my graduation from Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

The lyrics to “Sincerely” were taken from:

The photo of the McGuire Sisters was taken from:

The lyrics to “Vaya con Dios” were taken from:

The photo of Les Paul and Mary Ford was taken from:

The photo of KVSA between McGehee and Dermott, Arkansas, was taken from my earlier post titled “My First Encounter with Elvis and His Music” at:

The lyrics to “Picnic” and “Moonglow” were taken from:
Songwriters Eddie Delange; Will Hudson; Irving Mills Published by MILLS MUSIC INC;DE LANGE MUSIC CO.

The poster of the film Picnic with William Holden and Kim Novac was taken from:

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