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#Sample College Essay

The Emergence and Spread of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music

Origin and Development

The history of Rock and Roll (also called Rock ‘n’ Roll) music, as told by music critics and historians, is the great modernist fable of the late 20th century; a story of the individual versus society, art versus commerce, the poor and neglected versus the rich and privileged (Stephens, 2005). To rock historians, rock ‘n’ roll represented a triumph of authentic, regionally based culture over inauthentic, equalizing national culture (ibid.).

The music began in America in the 1950s. The name title ‘Rock n Roll’ was derived from the idea of a ship on the ocean moving in an unstable manner. It was also used at the time as an analogy sexual act. Alan Freed, the popular radio host in the 1950s, is credited for popularizing the term in America (Bordowitz, 2004). 

Rock ‘n’ roll ushered in a more working-class music that was dangerous, threatening, sexual and disruptive (Stephens, 2005). In the 1960s rock ‘n’ roll shifted to “rock,” a more sophisticated, self-conscious “art” form where it became music for listening as opposed to just dancing, but maintained its critical edge (Stephens, 2005).


Rock and roll spread from America, mainly California, to all over America. It spread through television (e.g. The Ed Sullivan Show in which Elvis Presley appeared in 1956 which boosted his popularity), movies (e.g. The Blackboard Jungle film of 1954 features Bill Haley’s song ‘Rock Around the Clock’) and the newly invented transistor radio (Freed especially began to play the music to white teenagers) in Europe and the United Kingdom. This kind of music was altered severally as it was being diffused. It especially changed to appeal to prevailing cultural dynamics and the teeming populations of teens.

According to Malinowski (2002), the first rock and roll concert organized by Alan Freed in 1952 pushed the geographical and racial boundaries of the music from the African American to Caucasian populace and musicians. Music producers, such as the Sun Records in Memphis, also played a role in the spread of rock and roll. The company signed up early singers like Presley and Johnny Cash who became the leading pioneers of rock and roll music in new cultural and geographical frontiers (ibid.).

Soon after this, rock and roll spread through relocation diffusion to the UK where pioneer artists musicians influenced upcoming singers who took over the mantle and infused the music with current issues (Malinowski, 2002).

Most of the popular artists that emerged in the various regions of the United States can be seen in the map below.


Source: Ford (1971)


According to Settle (2013), rock and roll has spread to almost all the countries of the world taking unique dimensions in every culture and geographical setting. Today, rock ‘n’ roll continues to grow and take new forms such as the soft rock, metallic, techno music among others.

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Bordowitz, H. (2004). Turning Points in Rock and Roll. New York, New York: Citadel Press.

Ford, L. (1971). Origin, evolution, and diffusion of rock and roll music. Journal of Geography LXX (November), 455-464.

Malinowski, J. C. (2002). Geography of Rock ‘n’ Roll. In J. C. Malinowski, Real Geography. Exploring the Geography of Everyday Life. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Moore, A. F. (1997). The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Settle, H. (2013). Rock and Roll. Retrieved May 14, 2016 from

Stephens, V. L. (2005). Queering the Subjects of Rock and Roll History (D.Phil. Dissertation). University of Maryland, College Park, USA.


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