13 May 2009

Sinatra and Racial Equality

My parents were among the last generation to like Frank Sinatra, the last really big pre-rock musician, while not being too impressed by the Beatles, one of the first really big rock bands (I count Elvis Presley as a transitional figure, a proto-rock musician). Thus, I associate Sinatra and the Rat Pack with traditional side of the 1960s social and cultural revolution in the United States. But, before the sex, drug and rock and roll revolution of the 1960s, the nation was already neck deep in the civil rights movement that sought to end racial segregation, which really took off in the 1950s. My parents, who were first generation college graduates and urban professionals who grew up in the rural Midwest, were a part of this movement themselves, particularly during their days in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1970s.

As a Square State diarist "fake consultant" explains, it turns out that Frank Sinatra was an important celebrity supporter of the civil rights movement who used his popularity to pressure Las Vegas venues to integrate and spoke out in favor of integration of the person to person friendship level. Who knew? It certainly gives me more respect for this music legend to know that this was the case.


Michael Malak said...

I don't particularly like or dislike Elvis' music, but from a historical perspective, he defined rock -- specifically, he put a white face on black rhythms (accents on even beats). There is not much separating Elvis from The Beatles other than JFK's assasination, which is where I pinpoint the beginning of the baby boomer cultural revolution. It was after three months of mourning that The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The Beatles music sounds relatively contemporary, even now. The music that Elvis played is very dated - no one would write anything close now.

Michael Malak said...

You seem to be objecting to the doo-wop element of Elvis, but that was also present in early Beatles. The Beatles self-consciously sought to redefine themselves every year and broke out of that mold, such as in their psychodelic endeavors as one example. This branching out and breaking of the 50's mold seems to be why you credit The Beatles as the first rock band.

At the root of this disagreement is an equivocation of the word "rock". The etymology of "rock 'n roll" is African-American slang for having sex. Thus from a historical perspective, we should credit those who took this term, applied it to music, and made both the term and the music mainstream.

But from a Gen X musical taste perspective, the creativity in later Beatles music is indeed the sort of experimentation one might encounter today.