The first big rock n’ roll concert happened 60 years ago today…and it lasted less than one song. While it may not seem like much of a concert, Alan Freed’s ode to togetherness and the new “teen music” he played for his loyal Moondoggers culminated in this one event that ultimately was shut down by police. The concert at the Cleveland Arena was truly about music. While the United States was still very much segregated, Freed encouraged a racially diverse list of performers and audience. Tickets were sold and sold and sold and then possibly counterfeited and sold again, until around 20,000 people longed to push into the arena of around 10,000 seats to dance and enjoy music. The police feared a riot and shut down the show but it was the simple intention and initial gathering that pushed the Moondog Coronation Ball into legendary status and Freed into rock lore.
This anniversary got me thinking expansively. Rock n’ roll was in its incipient phases back then, but when did rock n’ roll officially begin? What was the first rock n’ roll song ever released? I am unfortunately plagued by a nearly impossible longing to learn about the roots of everything. I like to know what came first. This particular question has several answers. There is not one song that has the title of first rock n’ roll song ever. There are many. I came across an interesting article written in Discovery that labels “That’s All Right Mama” by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup as the world’s oldest rock n’ roll song. Southeastern Louisiana University rock historian Joseph Burns thinks so. The song was released in September of 1946.
“It’s music that draws heavily from blues and country in a hit form that’s often danceable. There should be hints of jazz, gospel or folk influence. There should also be some technology influence,” writes the author of the article quoting Burns that can be accessed here.
Is he right? Is he wrong? Who knows. 1946 seems to be the year for emerging rock n’ roll. There was a turn over from big band, jazz, country, and straight blues, to a genre that mixed all of the elements together. As stated above, the music needs hints of blues and jazz and must be danceable. Well, in the 1940′s a genre developed that did just this. It was called Jump Blues and in my opinion it featured the first rock n’ roll song some months prior to Big Boy’s version of “That’s Alright Mama”
Jump blues combined blues and big band. It featured a small group of horn musicians who sang swingy, melodious pieces tinged with blues sentiments. And no one did this better than Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five. In January of 1946, Jordan released “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” which played to both black and white audiences by fusing together elements of country, blues, and jazz music. It is a stroke of mastery and it sounds a whole lot like rock n’ roll. And it’s catchy as hell and makes you move!