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 stopping us!


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 "The Regulars."

In 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 a comeback!

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!

 

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