When Rock n’ Roll was born there were a lot of mid-wives in attendance. The roots and traces go back a ways, and despite what some might say, Jazz factored in quite heavily in its formative stages. One of the things we tend to forget was the level of crossover that took place between Jazz/Big Band and Blues and just how many were actively practicing it. The broad-stroke big names associated with that burgeoning genre were Louis Jordan, Roy Milton, Joe Liggins and several others. But there was a whole sub-genre already in place that you had to go looking for in order to find. Chalk that up to the lack of mainstream access to the prevailing racial obstacles of the time. In the days of the Big Band, integrated groups were practically unheard of – and audiences were largely segregated. Even recording sessions for some of the major labels often indicated “Colored Session” on their recording ledgers.
But leave it to something like World War 2 to suddenly blur the lines and pave the way for changes on the horizon. Much of it had to do with the workforce suddenly needed in Defense plants and the big move North and West by rural and Southern Blacks. With them came music, and an audience for what was the sole property of The Chitlin’ Circuit now was finding a spotlight in the mainstream.
But even before the war, there were attempts being made to break the color line, particularly in Popular Music on Radio. During World War 2 a popular program put together expressly for the African-American GI was Jubilee for the Armed Forces Radio Service. This was, for a time, pretty much an exclusively African-American radio program featuring some of the most prominent artists of the “race music” scene – and it did a lot to break down color barriers as well as turn the White audience on to what Black America had been hip to for some time. Although Jubilee was done expressly for Armed Forces Radio, it actually began life during the height of the Swing era, in 1938. CBS Radio put together a test-run program called Blueberry Hill from its Hollywood Studios. Promoted as a “Showcase of Negro talent”, the two programs that I know of featured Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Herb “Flamingo” Jeffries, The Charioteers, Mantan Moreland and several other popular “race” acts of the day. Although it never became a regular program on CBS, it did set in motion a format which would become the basis for Jubilee during the war.
This program is from June of 1944 – it features probably one of the rare live appearances of Tiny Bradshaw, whose band became one of the mainstays of the Jump-Blues and eventually early Rock n’ Roll genres. It proves a point that R&B and early Rock n’ Roll had their foundations in Jazz, and is evidenced by many members of these performing groups went on to achieve success as session musicians or artists in their own right, such as Big Jay McNeely and Earl Bostic.
It all got started somewhere – and once it got started it was impossible to stop.
A couple caveats before hitting the Play button – it’s a radio program pressed on Vinyl and sent overseas to Military installations and camps throughout the War zones – a lot of those discs got pretty beat up, a lot were destroyed many of them weren’t recorded all that well to begin with. But it’s history and it’s important music to be exposed to. Remove the noise factor and concentrate on the notes and be amazed.
Enjoy no matter what.