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Looking at the photo above, the kids sitting around a table with two holding a poster for an upcoming Dance, you could swear up and down they had to be somewhere in their 20s. These weren’t kids, you think – these are adults and the photo is some approximation of what kids looked like in the early 1950s.
Nope. The kids in this photo range in age from 16-17. It’s 1953 and Rock n’ Roll hasn’t entered their lives yet. In a way, they’re still listening to the music they came of age with which, considering coming of age to being around 12, which would put their impressionable years somewhere around 1946-1948; just post-World War 2 and just coming to the end of the Big Band period. And this is Middle America, not one of the major metropolitan centers on either coast – this is St.Louis. Teenagers at this age were the minority – they weren’t part of the Baby Boom generation, they were very much under the influence of their parents generation, who were the prevailing market and the age group advertising, culture and even fashion dictated to. Which is probably why these kids look much older than their years; they more or less dressed like their parents – youth didn’t have the voice it would have less than ten years later.
So this weekly broadcast from KMOX in St.Louis, airing in 1953 is pretty much the norm for mainstream teenage America at the time. The talent show, highlighting the kids from the local high school reflect what they were listening to and what was making an impression. Bear in mind too, that this was right in the middle of Segregation and even radio stations and programs were divided along racial lines.
The guests for the show, considered teen idols at the time, are probably completely forgotten by anyone under the age of 50 now; Rusty Draper and The Hilltoppers; two acts with several hit records on the charts and were household names in most of America of the 1950s.
So consider this a snapshot of a place and time that are long gone from view and bear no resemblance to life as it is now. But it happened and this is who we were in mid-century America – and if you were this age in 1953 you’d be doing this, looking like this and listening to this – or something just like it.
A reminder that society evolves, whether we’re aware of it or not. Sometimes quickly – sometimes slowly.