The music industry had seen rapid growth in the period before the onset of the Second World War. The war put the brakes on the industry’s expansion, yet when the war was over it was able to utilize many of the technological advancements that the radio had made during the wartime years. The radio during the war in Europe was used primarily as a way of giving people news of how the conflict was progressing. It was seen as a way of boosting people’s moral and the soldier’s moral was boosted further as some of the music stars would perform in wartime concerts and certain recordings became theme tunes for the armies.
Vera Lynn was widely known as “the forces sweetheart” and during the war she performed in concerts in Egypt, Burma and India boosting the moral of the battle weary troops. Her most popular songs included “The White Cliffs of Dover” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” which were patriotic melodies that the forces would take with them into the battle fields. The concerts were organized by the Entertainments National Services Association. This association was created to keep the spirits of the troops high and many people from all areas of the entertainment industry played a full role in it. Gracie Field was another female singer whose popularity rose as a result of her performances during the war.
At the end of the war there was very much a social transformation. People were returning from war and wanted to take advantage of the freedom that they and many others had been fighting for. It was from this new social atmosphere that the rock and rock music genre emerged. The music was a combination of Jazz, with boogie-Woogie and mixed in with many other styles. But it was importantly associated with fashion. People were able to express their freedom with the clothes they wore and the attitude they portrayed. The young were no longer going out dressed in suits but the jeans and the t-shirt appeared with longer slick backed hair coming into fashion.
James Dean was an actor but he actually influenced rock and roll music. He was seen as a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment, and it was from this image of “sultry cool” that the new stars of rock and roll appeared from. Rock Roll first appeared as both white and black musicians started to experiment with Jazz and swing. The early such as Chuck Berry used aggressive electric guitar supported by a jump blues piano. As the first 45 rpm record was released certain singles were released by the performers that reflected a shift in change of music.
One such record was “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Hailey and the Comets but he was not the only Rock and Roll act. There was also Fats Domino, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Gene Vincent. But the man who really made the difference was Elvis Presley.
Presley performed rockabilly which was closer to country and western and appealed to the white audiences. Presley had the looks, could sing and could both act and dance. Hailing from Mississippi he was idolized by both white and black audiences and during the 1950s he had some massive hits including “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Blue Suede Shoes”. He was the first modern day rock superstar and his music had a major impact on some of the groups that would emerge in the 1960’s such as the Beatles. Also during this time many other acts were emerging such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly.
This spread of Rock and Roll in the States was felt in the UK. Many records were exported and sold to the British audiences and soon the UK were producing their own Rock and Roll acts. Cliff Richard and the Shadows were the first of the country’s Rock and Roll acts and new genres were created such as Skiffle with Lonnie Donegan being the most successful performer. The 1940s and 1950s were important eras of the music industry and had a great influence on the music that would be heard in later decades.