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If you grew up during this period, this post probably doesn’t apply to you. You still vaguely remember what it was like before the days of Rock n’ Roll, during the time when Rhythm and Blues was hidden from view. But if you were born, say at the beginning of this century, this will look and sound downright strange to you – and maybe you’ve never heard anything like this before – and it may seem shocking. Forget quaint – this bears no resemblance to the way life is now, certainly night life as we know it – this was from another time where people looked different and they acted different and they listened to different things.
But here’s the deal – the photo represents what the majority of people in America were looking like in the early 1950s – what they were doing socially and how they were behaving towards each other – this was the norm. And the radio is playing what was the mainstream and what was the most popular music at the time. Rock n’ Roll hadn’t existed before this – and Rhythm and Blues and Jump Blues and all the precursors to Rock n’ Roll belonged to another segment of our society – the segregated one – the one that raised eyebrows when anyone dare breach the norm to exchange ideas and finding their records was a task that bordered on the herculean.
Jazz was tolerated – and it’s very likely the kids in the photograph had a Dave Brubeck record in their collection, or maybe even Stan Kenton. In 1952 Stan Kenton was touring College campuses, building a following of students – maybe like this bunch. Students were gravitating towards new Jazz in big numbers, but this was the mainstream – and this still represented the majority.
And so bands like Chuck Cabot and His Orchestra and a hundred others criss-crossed the country, playing hotels or one nighters and their music was easy and non-threatening. And radio networks across the country ran them every night, saving the more adventuresome sounds for later on, after midnight.
Getting a feel for a period of time you may not be familiar with, which may be the period of time your parents or grandparents or even great-grandparents were part of gives a better understanding of the small stuff that makes up a society and night life was an important one. Dressing up seems like a foreign concept these days, especially when going out on a date (even dating is becoming a foreign concept) – customs and rituals have changed dramatically over the years. And there are people now who long for a version of that photograph or a version of the broadcast and only know it from the broad strokes they read or hear about via TV.
If you can, sink into this for the next 30 minutes, immerse yourself in this slice of previously undiscovered society and see how it feels. Nothing dramatic or earth-shattering, just a glimpse of life that is lived differently now.
See what you think.