Rock and Roll & Blue Suede Shoes: Epic Blends of Race and Cultures

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Rock and Roll–music that emerged into pop culture in the 1950s–was decades in the making. And we have African American “race music” to thank for its inception.

Race music? Sounds derogatory, but that was the term for recordings by African American artists whose music was marketed to blacks in the 1920s and 1930s. Their music was rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel. Soulful sounds and lyrics.

chuck berry
Legend Chuck Berry

Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips was  one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s. Of Phillips, Community Voices writer Rich Kiernzle says, “Phillips played black blues and R&B (and later, rockabilly) for listeners of both races.  He was as beloved by the blacks on Beale Street in Memphis as he was by white teenagers, all united by their love of his crazed persona and the music.”

Then some white country boys, not intimidated by segregation, not ashamed of the music’s origin, embraced race music, and added their own twist. And rockabilly was born.

Among those white country boys were Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. All three of them are connected to “Blue Suede Shoes,” the wildly popular rockabilly tune which was inspired by a black man. A black airman, no less.

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Johnny Cash in and out of uniform

Johnny Cash met airman C. V. White  while serving overseas in the  military. White referred to his  regulation airmen’s shoes as “blue suede shoes.” Cash suggested that Perkins write a song about those blue suede shoes. Perkins wrote and recorded the song in 1955. Elvis later performed B.S.S. while it was climbing the charts to number 1 for Perkins.


Perkins’ ‘Blue Suede Shoes’  and Elvis’s cover of it came to represent rockabilly sound for a restless post WWII generation of young people. Teenagers and young adults in the 1950s and ’60s were a rebellious lot, searching for answers, bucking authority and demonstrating their attitude through music and dance.

The Rolling Stones were influenced by race music, too, specifically “Chicago blues, Motown, bayou swamp blues, [and]  R&B.”  Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Little Richard also were a strong influence on the Beatles.

And, you can’t talk about John Lennon without mentioning Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley are named among the eight artists to influence Lennon the most.  Elvis’s version of, guess what? Blue Suede Shoes is said to have had a deep impact on Lennon.

So, we’ve come full circle. A black airman with his cultural musical roots and his general issue (G.I.) shoes  runs through the heart of the most acclaimed performers and the most internationally accepted music genre–Rock N Roll.

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blue suede shoes in Elvis museum






Speaking of the Beatles, the Beatles baffled cops in  London when they performed a rooftop concert that unsettled the neighborhood. Watch the fun.

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