As with many cultural phenomena, the birth of rock n' roll was the result of several influences and trends. Seemingly disparate genres of music, including blues, country, folk, gospel, and jazz were incorporated by different artists into new sounds. Radio and television helped to spread the craze nation-wide. Finally, the concept of the teenager entered the popular lexicon, and the new craze had a target audience.
Objectives: Students should be able to explain the forces and trends that contributed to the creation of rock n' roll.
- A computer lab or class laptop set.
1. Set up the lesson by asking each of your students to list their five favorite musical artists or groups. Get students talking about different types of music. The ask someone, “Who influenced (their favorite group)? Some students will know off the top of their heads, others will not. If you wish, let interested students look up the answer online, either on a classroom computer or a cell phone if your school rules allow for it. The point to get across is that music is not created in a vacuum. Every musician or group evolved from or was influenced by others.
2. Put the main genres that were influences on early rock n' roll on your board: blues, jazz, country, gospel, and folk. Outline the basics of each: rural/urban, segregated/integrated, what kinds of instruments were featured…there is no need to be completely exhaustive. Make the point that each genre had something different to offer both in terms of music and audience.
3. Split your class into groups. The number of groups should be based upon the number of students and your opinion on how many can work together effectively. Give each group a computer (or computers, if there are enough) and assign them an early figure or group enshrined at the rock n' roll Hall of Fame. The Hall’s website is:
Have the group briefly research their person or group and report back to class. What kind of music did they produce? What were their influences? Each group can potentially also play a clip of music, which can be found on their subject’s dedicated page in the hall.
Potential research subjects include but are certainly not limited to: Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, and Jackie Wilson.
4. Still using the computers, have students read Alan Freed’s biography (found here: https://www.rockhall.com/inductees/alan-freed/bio/) (inducted into the hall in 1986). Discuss the role of mass media in spreading rock n' roll. Have students watch the following clip of Elvis performing on national television:
5. Conclude the lesson by showing the following Coca-Cola TV ad from the 1950’s.
Point out the fact that before taking a break for a Coke, the teens are enjoying some of that new music. Teenagers had newfound purchasing power in the 1950’s and became a target market for both advertising and music. Many parents who had survived the Great Depression and World War II tried to allow their kids to extend their childhood.
- Photo of Elvis Presley promoting Jailhouse Rock by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ6-2067 Location: NYWTS – BIOG [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This post is part of the series: The 1950’s: Culture, Conformity & Civil Rights
This series of five high school lesson plans teaches your students the highlights of the decade of the 1950’s in America. From middle class culture, to beatniks, rock and roll and the beginning of the civil rights movement.