Click on the link here for Audio Player – NBC News Special – Biographies In Rhythm – July 26, 1955 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection
In the 1950s, as Jazz evolved and as Rhythm & Blues and Rock n’ Roll exploded on the scene, mainstream media were scratching their collective heads, wondering just where all this got started and who could they blame for this sudden burst of creative and musical freedom descending on us.
A few Musicologists pointed proudly to the continent of Africa as the source. The vast tapestry of rhythms and musical styles became something of a Ground Zero, where suddenly the puzzle and the history of how, what we considered to be “our” music, really got its start in the hinterlands and customs of an entire world of people we knew (and still know) very little about.
So in 1955, as part of the sparked interest in what was going on “over there”, Record companies clamored to record tribal rituals, African groups, previously available only through small labels or colonial subsidiaries, were now licensed by American labels, and this curious new music that became the inspiration and touchstone to a lot more new music, was now getting scrutiny by an American audience.
To go along with all this, NBC Radio, as a News Special ran a documentary called Biography In Rhythm in which several musicologists set out to trace where certain musical things got their start.
A little under an hour, it barely scratches the surface – and it’s a little condescending in places; expressing awe that complex rhythm and tonal structures are coming from “simple people”. It’s 1955 after all.
But – it’s a fascinating look at what was becoming a source of interest over something that had been around for several hundred, if not thousands of years. And at least it had now gotten mainstream awareness going for it.
Here is that documentary, Biography In Rhythm from July 26, 1955 as broadcast over The NBC Radio Network.