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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 African-American genres such as blues, 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.
The term “rock and roll” now has at least two different meanings, both in common usage: referring to the first wave of music that originated in the US in the 1950s and would later develop into the more encompassing international style known as “rock music”, and as a term simply synonymous with the rock music and culture in the broad sense. For the purpose of differentiation, this article deals with the first definition.
In the earliest rock and roll styles of the late 1940s and early 1950s, either the piano or saxophone was often the lead instrument, but these were generally replaced or supplemented by guitar in the middle to late 1950s. The beat is essentially a blues rhythm with an accentuated backbeat, the latter almost always provided by a snare drum. Classic rock and roll is usually played with one or two electric guitars (one lead, one rhythm), a string bass or (after the mid-1950s) an electric bass guitar, and a drum kit. Beyond simply a musical style, rock and roll, as seen in movies and on television, influenced lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language. In addition, rock and roll may have contributed to the civil rights movement because both African-American and white American teens enjoyed the music. It went on to spawn various sub-genres, often without the initially characteristic backbeat, that are now more commonly called simply “rock music” or “rock”.
The term “rock and roll” now has at least two different meanings, both in common usage. The American Heritage Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary both define rock and roll as synonymous with rock music. Encyclopædia Britannica, on the other hand, regards it as the music that originated in the mid-1950s and later developed “into the more encompassing international style known as rock music”.
The phrase “rocking and rolling” originally described the movement of a ship on the ocean, but was used by the early twentieth century, both to describe the spiritual fervor of black church rituals and as a sexual analogy. Various gospel, blues and swing recordings used the phrase before it became used more frequently – but still intermittently – in the 1940s, on recordings and in reviews of what became known as “rhythm and blues” music aimed at a black audience.
In 1934, the song “Rock and Roll” by Boswell Sisters appeared in the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round. In 1942, Billboard magazine columnist Maurie Orodenker started to use the term “rock-and-roll” to describe upbeat recordings such as “Rock Me” by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. By 1943, the “Rock and Roll Inn” in South Merchantville, New Jersey, was established as a music venue. In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed began playing this music style while popularizing the phrase to describe it.
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