Early Roots of Rock ‘n Roll


1:10 PM – 2:50 PM

9/11, 9/18, 9/25, 10/2, 10/9, 10/16, 10/23, 10/30

This course traces the evolution of the most American of musical forms from its beginning in African and European traditions to its melding of blues, country, gospel, folk and pop into something unique and revolutionary.  We examine the parallels between the Jazz Age of the 20’s, the Big Band era of the 30’s and 40’s and the burgeoning popularity of Rhythm & Blues and “Hillbilly” music in the post-World War II era.  We study such influential figures as Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Louis Jordan, Ruth Brown and Sister Rosetta Thorpe as well as important vocal groups such as The Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots, The Dominoes and The Drifters. Finally, we look at early recordings of icons like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, LaVern Baker and Wanda Jackson plus producers and DJ’s like Sam Phillips, Ahmet Ertegun, the Chess Brothers, Dewey Phillips and Alan Freed.  We discuss Rock ‘n Roll’s impact on American Society and culture from the breakdown of racial and sexual barriers to the formation of a new, teenage social class with its various subcultures.



Early Roots of Rock & Roll (Part I)

Gary Carlson, gcarlson@ncc.commnet.edu

My mission in this course is to focus on the formative years or rock’n’roll and to shine a spotlight on those artists, innovators, and events that played an important part in this story but that, unfortunately, today are largely forgotten (or misunderstood).

Note: In lieu of a textbook, many handouts and supplemental articles will be provided by the Professor each week.

Week 1:          Student/professor intros. Informal discussion about student expectations/

                                    concerns. Prof talks about the importance of telling the true

                                    history of rock’n’roll and not just focusing on the familiar names

                                    and greatest hits, as well as the challenge of balancing the demands

                                    of time, historical accuracy, a wealth of material, and student


                        Professor distributes/discusses “Time Line” and “Billboard” handouts.

                        Class discussion: What is Rock’n’Roll? Where did it come from? Why

                                    does it matter? Test class’s “Rock’n’Roll IQ” (esp regarding the

                                    various sub-genres and “roots” artists that we will be studying). J

                        Presentation on early American music—vaudeville, minstrels, Broadway,

                                    early jazz (esp Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller—CD1+).


Week 2:          Prof distributes/discusses Bing/Elvis and Les Paul handouts.

Class discussion of handouts distributed last class.

Presentation on music of the “Roaring ‘20’s” (Spotlight on vaudeville/

            minstrel shows, Al Jolson, Louis Armstrong, and Bing Crosby—



Week 3:          Class discussion of handouts distributed last class.

                                    Continue presentation on music of the 1920’s-30’s (Spotlight on

Les Paul, the colossus who spanned and helped to shape the history

of modern American music—from country and blues to jazz and

pop, even rock’n’roll. He influenced and inspired virtually


Prof distributes/discusses handouts on Robert Johnson, Jimmie

Rogers, and Woody Guthrie.


Week 4:          Class discussion of handouts distributed last class.

Continue presentation on roots music of the 1930’s Depression Era

            (Spotlight on early country, blues, folk, and gospel artists such as

            Jimmie Rogers, Robert Johnson, Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly),

            Woody Guthrie, and The Golden Gate Quartet (bring separate

            CD’s—as well as some very

early rock’n’roll from the ‘30’s—CD1).

Prof dist/discusses handout(s) on Boogie Woogie music and Amos



Week 5:          Class discussion of handouts distributed last class.

Presentation on WWII years and the emergence of boogie woogie, rhythm

            & blues, hillbilly, and acappella/gospel-influenced group

            harmonies on the pop scene. Play rock’n’roll songs from the early

            ‘40’s. (Spotlight on “Der Bingle,” The Andrews Sisters, Johnny

            Mercer, the Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots, and Amos Milburn).

Discuss social changes—particularly regarding youth, race, class, and


                        Prof dist/discusses handout(s) on Louis Jordan.


Week 6:          Class discussion of handouts distributed last class.

Presentation on 1945 & ‘46 (Spotlight on Louis Jordan, the King of

            1940’s and early 50’s R&B, as big as Elvis in the black

            community, an artist who influenced everyone from Chuck Berry

            to Bill Haley to James Brown). Feature appropriate CD’s.

                        Prof dist/discusses handouts on Louis Prima and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.


Week 7:          Class discussion of handouts distributed last class.

Continue presentation on 1945 & ‘46 (Spotlight on Louis Prima—the

            “black” paisan, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe—the gospel superstar

            who went secular and inspired Elvis!).

Prof distributes/discusses handout on Cover Records.


Week 8:          Class discussion of handouts distributed last class.

Presentation on 1947 & ‘48 (Spotlight on Cover Records vs. Crossover

            Records, and artists such as Arthur Crudup, Bill Monroe, Eddy

            Arnold, Dinah Washington, and Nat “King” Cole). Feature

            appropriate CD’s.

 Note: Part II of this course will pick up where we left off! I hope you’ll be back for more in the Spring! JGC

Facilitator: Gary Carlson,

Gary Carlson, a professor of English at NCC since 1997, has created and taught a wide variety of courses on writing, literature, film and pop culture, as well as organizing and hosting the college’s Movie-of-the-Month film series (now in its 10th year.) He is also a published writer of fiction and non-fiction, film and music criticism.