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Hey, did you ever wonder where the phrase "rock 'n' roll" came from? Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope gives its history in his "Who Invented The Term Rock 'N' Roll?"
We all know it was popularized by Cleveland DJ Alan Freed during his popular music show on radio station WJW, "Moon Dog's House Party," and began playing R&B tunes in 1951-52, which he described as rock and roll. According to another source, Freed didn't use the term until 1954 at NYC's WIN with his "Rock And Roll Party" show. Either way, Freed's phrase stuck.
But musically, it dates back to the Roaring Twenties. The origin of the term “rock ‘n’ roll,” is pretty straightforward.
It originally meant the movement of the boat on the ocean. In the late 1800s to early 1900s, gospel music used the term to describe being rocked and rolled in the arms of the Lord.
From there, it wasn't a far step to have the phrase turn from religious to secular lingo. Black artists used it to generally describe partying, carrying on, and/or having sex (ie, a roll in the hay, dating back centuries in time).
Rock historian Nick Tosches traces the first recorded "rock and roll" line to blues singer Trixie Smith, who recorded "My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)" for Black Swan Records in 1922. The song inspired spin-offs like "Rock That Thing" by Lil Johnson and "Rock Me Mama" by Ikey Robinson. Another expert, Southeastern U communications professor Joe Burns, dates it to the gospel tune "Camp Meeting Jubilee" performed in 1916.
Per Wikipedia, the term was first used in its entirety in 1937, when Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald recorded "Rock It for Me", which included the lyric, "...So won't you satisfy my soul with the rock and roll..."
Who knew rock 'n' roll was a double-entendre flapper-era phenomena?
Naming the first rock artist is a crap shoot; Big Joe Turner and Sister Rosetta Tharpe had several songs that could pass as rock records as early as the thirties.
Other candidates considered for the honor include “How High the Moon” by Les Paul and Mary Ford; “The Honey Dripper” by Joe Liggens; “Boogie Chillen’” by John Lee Hooker; “Saturday Night Fish Fry” by Louis Jordan; “The Fat Man” by Fats Domino; “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets and “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats.
“An argument can be made for and against every song mentioned, but there’s one that fits better than all of those noted: ‘That’s All Right Mama,’ by Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup,” said Burns, who hosts the weekly program “Rock School” on Southeastern’s KSLU 90.9 FM radio station.
Wikipedia adds that "A leading contender as the first fully formed rock and roll recording is 'Rocket 88' by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (actually Ike Turner and The Kings of Rhythm under a different name), recorded by Sam Phillips for Sun Records in 1951.
Three years later the first rock and roll song to enter Billboard magazine's main sales and airplay charts was Bill Haley's 'Crazy Man, Crazy' and the first to top the charts was his 'Rock Around the Clock' in 1955."
But hey, no matter where it started, it's here to stay.
"Rock 'N' Roll Is Here To Stay" - Danny And The Juniors, 1958