The Empress Theatre is eagerly preparing to open it’s next show All Shook Up, playing March 29 - April 20. While the cast and crew enter their final week of rehearsals (AKA “hell week”), we invite you to read our All Shook Up blog series, which kicks off today! In this series we’ll bring you fun and informative content all related to All Shook Up and the spirit of rock’n’roll the show embodies. So, put on your blue suede shoes, slick back your hair, and get ready to get “all shook up!” And while you’re at it, be sure to order your All Shook Up tickets today!
Opposition to Rock'n'Roll
This first post in our blog series explores the public opposition to rock’n’roll music in the 1950s. Rock’n’roll Music might have been all the rage with the teenagers of the 1950s, but their parents hated it! More than just merely disliking the qualities of the music, the older generation was in full-on panic mode about rock’n’roll’s moral implications for society. It might be hard for us to today to image what was so morally reprehensible about a strong back-beat, nonsense “do-wop” lyrics, and dance moves like “the twist,” but folks were scared of it. And, much like the mayor of the fictitious no-name town in All Shook Up, these folks were up in arms to stop this new music dead in its tracks. But, why?
The post-war economic and baby boom of the 1950s ushered in some significant societal changes. Changes that older generations weren’t quite ready to embrace. Rock’n’roll might
not have been the cause of these cultural tensions, but it was an easily recognizable target.
Rock'n'roll and The Generation Gap
The teenagers of the 1950s were the product of the post-war baby boom. Their generation was larger than any in recent memory. Economic prosperity and technological advances gave them money to spend and an abundance of affordable products to spend it on. This generation of teenagers created a culture all their own, separate and unique from their parents’. They had their own fashions, their own slang, and their own music. Previous to the 1950s “teenage culture” didn’t exist. It was a new thing, and new things are scary. Rock’n’roll music was specifically tailored for teenagers. It was the sonic embodiment of the separating of the generations.
Rock'n'roll and Racial Tensions
Economic prosperity and “The Great Northward Migration” put blacks and whites in closer proximity than ever before. Economic prosperity and technological advances made black and white music more accessible outside their “traditional” audiences than ever before. Rock’n’roll started out as white kids listening to “black” music (Rhythm & Blues), and black kids listening to “white” music (Country & Western). Eventually, artists began fusing the genres together. Rock’n’roll was the sonic embodiment of the “mixing of the races,” and “the mixing of the races” was something the older generation was taught to fear.
Rock'n'roll and Teenage Sexuality
And then there was the “crazy“ dancing -- rhythmic, primitive, suggestive. If the kids were swinging their pelvises in public dances, what on earth were they doing in private?! Even the phrase “rock’n’roll” was at one time black slang for sex. Rock’n’roll was the sonic suggestion of “free love,” and in the world of the 1950s the consequences of free love were still dire. “The pill” didn’t exist and treatment for STDs was still fairly medieval. So, even the suggestion of teenage sexuality was frightening to the older generations.
All these tensions lead to widespread moral panics about the evils of rock’n’roll music. Faith leaders, civic leaders, politicians, and even celebrities publicly condemned rock’n’roll. And, much like the fictitious city in All Shook Up, some cities even flat-out outlawed rock’n’roll music! Despite all this public opposition, rock’n’roll not only survived, but thrived, and became THE popular music of the second half of the 20th century.
… And Thrives at the Empress
It is this indomitable spirit of rock’n’roll, and it’s king, Elvis Presley, that is at the heart of our production of All Shook Up. Come experience the spirit of rock’n’roll for yourself at The Empress, March 29-April 20. Buy your tickets today!