Rock and roll is one of the most popular music genres. It originated in the United States in the late 1940s and it’s based on gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, boogie woogie and other African American musical styles. But have you ever wondered how it got its name? Why do we call it rock ‘n’ roll?
Here’s the interesting background story.
The word ‘roll’ has been used since the Middle Ages to refer to sexual intercourses. Expressions such as “rolling under the sheets” or “let’s go for a roll” have been used for centuries. Similarly, the word ‘rock’ has been used since the 17th century to imply ‘shake’ or ‘disturb’. During the 19th century, gospel singers started using the term ‘rocked’ when they wanted to imply ‘being shaken’ in a spiritual sense and by the early 1900s, black Americans used the word as a slang for dancing music (mainly R&B). And it was around that time that people started combing the two words when referring to suggestive dancing and sex. The term was gaining popularity across the world a few years later though, due to a man named Alan Freed. (the article continues after the ad)
Alan Freed, a DJ from Cleveland, OH, is credited for popularizing the term in the early 1950s. Freed had a radio show in which he played early forms of the rock ‘n’ roll music (basically a concoction of country music and rhythm and blues). To name his show, Freed contacted his sponsor and they agreed to name it The Moondog Rock & Roll House Party. The name was inspired by some popular songs that included the merged double entendre concept of rock and roll, such as the Rock and Rolling Mama (1939) and the Rock and Roll (1940s).
However, besides from being catchy, the name was also a smart marketing move from Leo Mintz, the radio show’s sponsor. Mintz, who was the record store owner of Race Records (Record Rendezvous), was trying to increase his sales by introducing white people to this new music style. By sponsoring the show, he successfuly re-branded the rock ‘n’ roll music and which quickly became popular amongst all ethnicities. And thus the name was born!
If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: How Guns N’ Roses Got Their Name
Photo: Wikimedia, Paul Hudson / Flickr
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Sources: Why is it called “rock n’ roll?” What does the “roll” mean? | Birth and rise of rock ‘n’ roll in Cleveland: PD 175th (vintage photos) | The Wise Book of Whys