TAKE MY HAND AS WE
"DANCE BACK" TO THE LATE 1950'S
We were the
Rock 'n' Roll Generation. Alan Freed dubbed the music "rock 'n' roll"
(quoting the 1947 song by Wild Bill Moore, "We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna
Roll.") Once teenagers started dancing to rock 'n' roll, there was no
In 1952, Bob Horn came up with the idea that a television show with
teenagers dancing to music, performers lip-synching their songs, and a
Rate-a-Record segment to introduce new songs would be successful. When
"Bob Horn's Bandstand" at the WFIL Philadelphia studio was created, he
couldn't have imagined then that he would one day become "The Grandfather
of MTV" and that he would influence and change the course of life for
Bandstand's next host, Dick Clark, and a group of teenage dancers called
1956, Dick Clark (who was a radio announcer at the WFIL studio,) replaced
Bob Horn as the host of Bandstand. On August 5, 1957, Bandstand became
"American Bandstand." ABC telecast the show on sixty-seven stations coast
to coast from Monday to Friday. The local show was shown from 2:30 to
5:00 P.M. Nationally, it was seen from 3:00 to 4:30 P.M.
In the beginning, Dick was not really at home with the music, but Tony
Mammarella (Bandstand's Producer who stayed on from the Bob Horn days,)
showed him the ropes and the rest is history. Dick is probably the only
person on this planet who could have taken Bandstand to "Ripley's Believe
It or Not" fame. The show is listed as the longest running variety show
in the history of television leaving the air in 1989....and, now, planning
We, the Regulars, were the "1st Reality Stars." We were neighborhood kids
who wanted to dance, and ended up leading a nation of teenagers with our
dance styles, fashion trends and hairstyles. "The Stroll," "The Pony,"
"The Bunny Hop," "The Mash Potatoes," "The Bristol Stomp," and "The
Twist" are some of the dances we started on the show. Teen magazines
featured us in articles each month, and we were in "Popularity Polls"
alongside Elvis and all of our rock 'n' roll heroes.
Our fan clubs spanned across America and fan letters and presents came
pouring into the studio everyday. Teenagers were crazy for rock 'n' roll
and we became an economic force that bought records! Parents hated the
music and thought it would make us juvenile delinquents. Churches called
it "the devil's music." But the beat went on and nothing could stop us.
Dancing made us feel alive, made us feel connected, made us feel free.
After Catholic school, life for me was running as fast as I could to catch
the bus, changing from my uniform to my Bandstand clothes in the back of
the bus, and teasing my hair into a "beehive" all in time to make it by
2:30 and the first song.
Five days a week, a rock 'n' roll hero would be appearing on the show.
Chuck Berry would be doing his "duck walk," Jerry Lee Lewis would be
pounding his piano, Bobby Darin would be singing "Mack the Knife," and I
would be in "heaven." Rock 'n' roll has a "backbeat." It's rhythm is
pure energy for the soul. And, American Bandstand was the place to be.
American Bandstand epitomized better than any other television program of
it's time the youth-driven nature of popular entertainment and television
after World War II. and it also reflected the synthesis of local and mass
culture; although broadcast to a national market, the show was heavily
influenced by regional music. Many of the performers came from South
Philly (Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Danny & The Juniors, Bobby Rydell, Chubby
Checker.) And, The Dovells (who created "The Bristol Stomp") came from
South Jersey which is close to South Philly!
American Bandstand is one of the defining moments in my life. Eddie
Kelly, my dance partner, is still one of my best friends forty-two years
later. We were a family. Regulars like Steve Colanero, Carole
Scaldeferri, Joyce Shafer, Mryna Horowitz, Judy Liebowitz, Carmen & Ivette
Jimenez, Justine Carelli, Kenny Rossi, Arlene Sullivan, Larry Juliannna,
Frani Giordano, Frankie Lobis, Mary & Sue Beltrante, Arlene & bob DiPietro,
Frankie Vacca, Monte Montez, Barbara Levick, Pat Mollitieri and "Rubber
Legs" will always remain in my heart.
In 1959, records cost sixty-nine cents, gasoline was twenty-nine cents, my
house in Darby cost $9,000, and Elvis was still around! Now, those were
the good old days! "A wop bop a loo bop a wop, bam boom, tutti frutti,
all rooti" Little Richard would sing. Long live rock 'n' roll! And, no
matter what, keep on dancing!