December 21, 2015

148 The Treniers “Rockin’ on Sunday Night” 1952

Twins Claude (1919-2003) and Cliff (1919-1983) “developed a unique sound and…style of performance—involving everything from a cappella shrieking to acrobatics to football formations…The Treneirs’ Okeh records contains some of the best rock ‘n’ roll to be heard in the early fifties (Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll).

December 14, 2015

147 Roy Hall (1922-1984) and his Cahutta Mountain Boys “Dirty Boogie” 1951

“By the time Roy turned twenty-one, he knew that he was the best drunken piano-player in Big Stone Gap (Virginia).” He organized a band and recorded for a small record producer in Detroit. He left the band and opened his own music bar joint in Nashville (Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll).

146 Moon Mullican (1909-1967) “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” 1950

Moon Mullican “developed his musical skills on a pump organ his father purchased…Impressed by pianists who performed in local juke joints, Mullican developed a distinctive two-finger right-handed piano style that became his trademark” (The Handbook of Texas Music). He was called The King of Hillbilly Piano Players and “became the Grand Ole Opry's first singer-pianist” (Rich Kienzle, album cover of Moon Mullican Seven Nights To Rock). 

December 8, 2015

145 Dean Martin (1917-1995) “That’s Amore” 1953

Born Dino Paul Crocetti, boxed under the name Kid Crochet, sang his first gig as Dino Martini (The Encyclopedia of Popular Culture). The song was featured in the Martin and Lewis comedy, The Caddy, and in the 1987 film, Moonstruck

Dean Martin “That’s Amore”

144 Bill Haley (1925-1981) and his Comets “Crazy Man, Crazy” 1953

“when you consider that Haley had been making rock & roll records since 1951, and playing to audiences of teenagers…his claim to have discovered the music doesn’t seem at all preposterous” (Bill Haley The Daddy of Rock and Roll).

143 Bill Haley (1925-1981) and the Saddlemen “Rock the Joint” 1952

“Its freak success moved Bill Haley away from hillbilly music and into recording rhythm and blues songs.” Haley said, “Here I was with the sideburns, cowboy boots and almost ten years of promoting myself as a country and western singer” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).

142 Billy Ward (1921-2002) and his Dominoes “Have Mercy Baby” 1952

“thanks to Clyde McPhatter (1932-1972) whose career began in a gospel ensemble, ‘Have Mercy Baby’ was born in the black church. The title could just as easily have been replaced with ‘Have Mercy, Jesus’ (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).

141 Ivory Joe Hunter (1914-1974) “I Almost Lost My Mind” 1950

“the Texas-born Hunter was sneaking elements of country music into his jazzy ballads and jump blues as far back as the 1940s. By doing so he was helping to lay the groundwork for the cross-cultural musical revolution that would one day be named rock 'n' roll” (Contemporary Musicians). 

December 1, 2015

140 The Clovers “One Mint Julip” 1952

“It was an early ‘drinking’ hit, and an attempt at a social statement, as well as one of the first vocal group record hits to spotlight a tenor sax solo.” The writer, Rudy Toombs, “provided Ruth Brown with her first major hit, ‘Teardrops from My Eyes’” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).

The Clovers “One Mint Julip” 

139 Hank Snow (1914-1999) and his Rainbow Ranch Boys “I’m Movin’ On” 1950

“It was the first major train song hit set to a boogie rhythm… ‘I’m Movin’ On’ became a sort of unofficial marching song among the U.S. troops in Korea” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).

138 Muddy Waters (1913-1983) “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” 1950

“the song that most profoundly broke away from the country blues and set the standard of the rockin’ Chicago blues of the ‘50s…with Waters’s amplified bottleneck guitar serving as a second, responsive ‘voice’ from start to finish” (What Was the first Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).


137 Roy Brown (1925-1981) and the Mighty Men “Hard Luck Blues” 1950

He started his career as a gospel singer and boxer. Destitute, “Brown tried in vain to sell a song he had written to the great blues shouter Wynonie Harris.” Instead, Brown recorded his own “Good Rockin’ Tonight” (1947), which was so popular that Harris changed his mind about the song. Brown’s success led to a number hits such as “Hard Luck Blues” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music).  


136 Paul Williams (1915-2002) and his Hucklebuckers “Huckle-Buck” 1949

William played in a Ford factory band during World War II. He named the tune after a new dance craze, the Hucklebuck: “Partners start from squat position facing each other and work their way up to a standing position while they, according to the song, ‘Wiggle like a snake, waddle like a duck’” (Ebony, Aug. 1961).

November 24, 2015

135 Hardrock Gunter (1925-2013) and the Pebbles “Birmingham Bounce” 1950

“It was one of the earliest white, popular records about ‘rockin’ on the dance floor.” Gunter received his nickname when a car lid whacked him on the head with no ill effects. He later became an insurance salesman but said, “If anything, I’m the first one who got up and told the people at clubs, ‘Let’s rock ‘n’ roll’” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).

134 Professor Longhair (1918-1980) and his New Orleans Boys “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” 1949

The song “was the first of many New Orleans R&B recordings to capitalize on the city’s peculiar rhythms.” Born Henry Byrd, the Professor was “considered the Bach of rock ‘n’ roll and the most original keyboard man the city ever produced” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).

133 Wild Bill Moore (1918-1983) “We’re Gonna Rock, We’re Gonna Roll” 1948

“It was the first ‘honking’ hit record” that Moore would remake in 1949. The R&B honker “subordinated musical technique to gimmickry. He was a crowd-getter” whose goal was “to make the instrument sound as unmusical or as non-Western as possible” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).

132 Helen Humes (1913-1981) “Be-Baba-Leba” 1945

“It was the first example of bebop’s influence on R&B, which had evolved primarily from big-band swing and blues.” The song “established [Humes] in the rhythm and blues field for the next ten years” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).  

131 Jazz at the Philharmonic “Blues” 1944

An all-star cast of jazz musicians—Illinois Jacquet, Jack McVea, J. J. Johnson, Nat Cole, Les Paul, Johnny Miller, Lee Young—improvised “one of the first ‘live’ commercially released recordings” and “influenced the coming revolutions in music” (What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record).

November 18, 2015

130 Guitar Slim (1926-1959) “The Things That I Used To Do” 1953

Eddie Jones, stage name Guitar Slim. “His sound might have been firmly rooted in gospel and blues-influenced R&B, but his delivery was certainly rock & roll oriented. Slim dressed al loudly as he played; cherry-red suits and white shoes were favorites” (The Big Book of Blues).

129 The “5” Royales “Baby Don’t Do It” 1953

Originally the Royal Sons Gospel Group, their “influence on R&B proved fundamental to the music of James Brown, with whom the group had frequently worked in their heyday” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Culture).

128 Brother Claude Ely (1922-1978) “There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Keep My Body Down” 1953

Ely said God gave him this song when he was 12 years old, sick from tuberculosis. “The song became an anthem among Pentecostal people in the Appalachian Mountains.” It was probably written down by 1947 and recorded by Brother Claude in 1953. Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded a version in 1956, and it was one of the last songs recorded by Johnny Cash (www.npr.org).


127 The Drifters “Money, Honey” 1953

The lead singer for the Dominoes, Clyde McPhatter, quit and formed his own group, the Drifters. After a number of personnel changes, the group made a hit with their first recording, “Money Honey” (Encyclopedia of Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop Vocal Groups).

126 The Dixie Hummingbirds “Let’s Go Out to the Programs” 1953

“The year 1952 marks a key time in the group’s history, because it was then that the ‘classic’ lineup was formed that would last more or less intact for the next quarter-century”: James B. Davis, Ira Tucker, Willie Bobo, James Walker, Beachery Thompson, and guitarist Howard Carroll (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

November 10, 2015

125 The Crows “Gee” 1953

“The members of this group got together at a Manhattan high school. They sang at school, on street corners, and in hallways and subways.” After their hit, “Gee,” “their subsequent recordings were failures, however, due to poor promotion, and …they drifted apart” (Encyclopedia of Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop Vocal Groups).

124 Ray Charles (1930-2004) “Mess Around” 1953

After recording “Mess Around,” Charles buried his mother, Mary Jane, in Greenville, Florida. “At this moment of complete orphanhood, Ray crossed a major threshold in his life…he finally told himself, ‘Stop this Nat Cole imitation…Sink, swim, or die’” (Ray Charles Man and Music).

123 Ruth Brown (1928-2006) “He Treats Your Daughter Mean” 1953

Her church choir director father thought blues was the “devil’s music,” so his daughter Ruth didn’t tell her parents about winning 1st prize at the Apollo Theater’s amateur talent night (Contemporary Musicians). 

122 Kitty Wells (1919-2012) “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” 1952

“Publicly,” Kitty Wells “sang of guilt and remorse, of illicit romance and sin, of betrayal and broken dreams. Privately,” Ellen Muriel Deason “was the polite mother of three and a shy, soft-spoken, dutiful housewife. She was steeped in tradition but became a star as an innovator” (Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800-2000). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

Kitty Wells “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”

121 Lloyd Price (1933-) “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” 1952

The song was initially a jingle Price wrote for his band as a radio station break. He was drafted into the army. When he returned, he recorded hits such as his rendition of John Hurt’s “Stack O’Lee Blues” (Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul). 

November 3, 2015

120 Anita O’Day (1919-2006) and Her Orchestra “Rock and Roll Blues” 1952

She worked hard at becoming a jazz singer, even when rock and roll took over popular music. She quit a sixteen year heroin addiction and “returned…singing better than ever.” About “Rock and Roll Blues” O’Day says, “I must have really been on a power trip. I wrote the music—blues, anyone can write blues—and what passed for lyrics” (High Times Hard Times).

119 Little Walter (1930-1968) “Juke” 1952

“Little Walter Jacobs was to harmonica blues what Charlie Parker was to jazz saxophone, what Jimi Hendrix was to rock guitar…no other harp player ever released anything that grabbed the attention of the record-buying public or other aspiring harp players the way ‘Juke’ did” (Blues With A Feeling The Little Walter Story).

118 Clara Ward (1924-1973) and the Ward Singers “How I Got Over” 1951

The original Ward Trio was founded by Gertrude Ward and her daughters, Clara and Willa, in the late 1930’s. In 1948 they added Marion Williams to form the Ward Singers. “…their sense of showmanship would influence the next generation of gospel and R&B groups, including Motown hit makers.” One person in particular was influenced by Clara’s vocal style, the young daughter of Rev. C. L. Franklin, Aretha (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music).

117 The Soul Stirrers “Jesus Gave Me Water” 1951

Robert Harris was replaced in 1950 by Sam Cooke, and the group “propelled Sam Cooke to superstardom in Black America” (Offbeat July 2015). Roy Crain became Cooke’s manager in 1957 when Cooke left the group to record popular music (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music). 

The Soul Stirrers “Jesus Gave Me Water”

116 Johnnie Ray (1927-1990) “Cry” 1951

Nicknamed “Prince of Wails” by American critics, Ray was nevertheless popular with British audiences and rock bands, including Stephen Morrissey, who’d wear a hearing aid onstage in tribute to him (The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll).

October 27, 2015

115 Les Paul (1915-2009) and Mary Ford (1924-1977) “How High the Moon” 1951

Les Paul built a homemade recording studio so he could accompany himself at night. He combined an “absolutely unheard of” twelve overdubs of an old jazz standard, “How High the Moon,” and eventually convinced a reluctant Capital Records to release it, even though the company already had 23 other versions (Les Paul An American Original). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

114 B. B. King (1925-2015) “Three O’Clock Blues” 1951

Riley King lucked into a short radio gig for WDIA in Memphis. “People would start to write me quite a bit…sometimes they would say, B. B.—the Beale Street Blues Boy…” His recording of “Three O’Clock Blues” made him a national star (‘Blues Boy’ The Life and Music of B. B. King).

113 Elmore James (1918-1963) “Dust My Broom” 1951

James revived Robert Johnson’s standard. His “originality lay in his powerful style with the bottleneck” to create “one of the most exciting sounds in blues history.” He was apparently unaware of his tremendous influence on British rock bands when he died of a heart attack (Encyclopedia of the Blues). Fleetwood Mac recorded the song in 1968. Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

112 Howlin’ Wolf (1910-1976) “How Many More Years” 1951

B. B. King and Howlin’ Wolf were double-booked at a Memphis nightclub. King said, “He sang so well till I almost cried…I told Wolf I didn’t want the gig—he could have it…Like all great bluesmen, he sang for the sinners, which meant he sang for everyone” (Moanin’ at Midnight The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf).

111 The Five Keys “Glory of Love” 1951

Formed in 1945 and originally called the Sentimental Four (based in Newport News, VA). In 1951 they won a lawsuit against the Four Keys who wanted to add another member to their group to become a second Five Keys (Encyclopedia of Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop Vocal Groups).

October 20, 2015

110 Billy Ward (1921-2002) and his Dominoes “Sixty Minute Man” 1951

Billy Ward was a boxer, sports journalist, and a Juilliard trained vocal instructor who formed a group with his own students, the Dominoes. Their risqué “Sixty Minute Man” featuring lead singer Clyde McPhatter (1932-1972) was possibly the “first R&B record by a black group to make the pop chart” (The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll). 

109 Jackie Brenston (1930-1979) and his Delta Cats “Rocket 88” 1951

Brenston was a saxophonist for Ike Turner and his Kings Of Rhythm band. The band recorded “Rocket 88” (about the Oldsmobile 88) under Brenston’s name. The song “became a hit, due in part to the distorted sound of Willie Kizart’s guitar” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music).

108 Howlin’ Wolf “Moanin’ at Midnight” 1950

Record producer Sam Phillips recorded “Moanin’ at Midnight and said it “is a classic thing that nobody can improve upon” (Moanin’ at Midnight).

107 The Weavers “Goodnight Irene” 1950

The song was first recorded by Leadbelly in 1933. The original Weavers—Pete Seeger (1919-2014), Fred Hellerman (1927-), Lee Hays (1914-1981), Ronnie Gilbert (1926-2015)—“profited by being everything pop singers were not; they had spontaneous arrangements and untrained voices, and they downplayed vocal effects in favor of content…communication, not hype.” Seeger left the Weavers in 1958 to protest the group’s decision to perform for a cigarette commercial (How Can I Keep From Singing: Pete Seeger).

106 The Dominoes “Do Something for Me” 1950

They were part of the “golden age of R&B with its excitement and innocence.” A 1952 picture shows the Dominoes outside the Apollo, surrounded by adoring fans (Record Makers and Breakers).

October 13, 2015

105 The Soul Stirrers “By and By” 1950

The Soul Stirrers had its roots at Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in Trinity, Texas in the mid 1920’s, founded by Silas Roy Crain (1911-1996). The group moved from Houston to Chicago in 1937 and later cofounded the National Quartet Convention. Rebert H. Harris (1916-2000) joined the group and sang tenor in “By and By.” He was replaced in 1950 by Sam Cooke. Crain became Cooke’s manager in 1957 when Cooke left the group to record popular music (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music). 

104 Arkie Shibley (1914-1975) and his Mountain Dew Boys “Hot Rod Race” 1950

“the hot rod subgenre…is generally considered to have been spawned by Hot Rod Race” (Record Makers and Breakers).

103 The Ravens “Count Every Star” 1950

“Formed in 1945, the Ravens are considered the first of the ‘bird groups.’” After considerable turnover, the group “faded from the scene” by the late 1950’s (The Encyclopedia of Popular Culture). 

102 Pinetop Perkins (1913-2011) “Pinetop's Boogie Woogie” 1950

Perkins took his name from boogie-woogie pianist Pine Top Smith (1904-1929). Perkins recorded his own version of Smith’s 1928 “Pine Top Boogie Woogie” (The Big Book of Blues).

101 Joe Hill Louis (1921-1957) “Boogie in the Park” 1950

The one-man band who played guitar, drums, and harmonica simultaneously. “In 1957 he died of tetanus because he did not have money to pay for the vaccine” (Encyclopedia of the Blues).

October 6, 2015

100 Cecil Gant (1915-1951) “We’re Gonna Rock” 1950

A popular performer in California nightclubs, Gant was famous for his army hit “I wonder” and noted for his “furious boogie-woogie” piano playing (Encyclopedia of the Blues).

99 Ruth Brown (1928-2006) “Teardrops from My Eyes” 1950

In the early 1960’s, she “left the music business, driving a school bus to support her children despite the millions of dollars she had made for her record company.” Brown “was the single most important and influential female artist in the development of modern R&B” (Encyclopedia of the Blues).

98 Hank Williams (1923-1953) “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry” 1949

The “greatest songwriter in country music...a light and a darkness, a dream and a nightmare” (Hank Williams The Complete Lyrics).

97 Hank Williams (1923-1953) “Lovesick Blues” 1949

Producer Fred Rose thought it was a terrible song but let Williams record it anyway. “Lovesick Blues” made Williams a star (Hank Williams The Biography). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

96 The Weavers “Rock Island Line” 1949

The song was recorded for folklorist Alan Lomax in the 1930’s. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee considered it communist propaganda. “The Weavers may have been the first musicians in American history formally investigated for sedition” (How Can I Keep From Singing).

September 29, 2015

95 Jimmy Preston (1913-1984) and his Prestonians “Rock the Joint” 1949

Bill Haley turned Preston’s bluesy version into something conducive to white country kids. “The crowd, hillbilly fans, went crazy” (Bill Haley The Daddy of Rock and Roll).

Jimmy Preston "Rock the Joint"

94 “Wild Bill” Moore (1918-1983) “Rock and Roll” 1949

William Melvin Moore tried boxing during the Depression and then turned to playing tenor saxophone. He formed a rhythm and blues band, “Wild Bill Moore, his Groovy Sax and Orchestra,” in 1948. He successfully merged the improvisation of jazz with the enthusiasm of R&B (The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz).

93 Sticks McGhee (1918-1961) “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” 1949

McGhee wrote this drinking song during his stint in the army during World War II. A second recording in 1949 became his only hit and a popular R&B standard redone by Jerry Lee Lewis. His older brother, Brownie, was a noted folk song and blues artist (The Big Book of Blues).



92 Louis Jordan (1908-1975) and his Tympany Five “Saturday Night Fish Fry” 1949

Jordan was a college music major, songwriter, saxophonist, and lead singer whose charismatic stage presence was influenced by swing band leaders such as Chick Webb and Cab Calloway (The Big Book of Blues).

91 Fats Domino (1928-) “The Fat Man” 1949

Young Antoine picked up the New Orleans style of R&B piano while playing in New Orleans bars. The band director at the Hideaway Club gave him the nickname “Fats.” He recorded his first major hit, “The Fat Man,” with trumpeter Dave Bartholomew.

September 22, 2015

90 Goree Carter (1930-1990) “Rock Awhile” 1949

A self-taught guitarist from Houston, he resisted his manager’s insistence to imitate T-Bone Walker. He was drafted into the army during the Korean War; the war “and the strain of nursing his ailing mother effectively ended his short career” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music).

89 Muddy Waters (1915-1983) “Rollin' Stone” 1948

“I always felt like I could beat plowin’ mules, choppin’ cotton and drawin’ water. I did all that and I never did like none of it” (Rock The Rough Guide). Keith Richards and his friend Mick Jagger were listening to The Best of Muddy Waters album and decided to name their band after the song, “Rollin’ Stone” (Can’t Be Satisfied).

Muddy Waters "Rollin' Stone"

88 Muddy Waters (1915-1983) “I Can’t Be Satisfied” 1948

“[T]he patriarch of post-World War II Chicago blues” (The Big Book of Blues), Waters began a 28 year collaboration with Chess Records when he was invited to record for them in 1948, performing songs he had first recorded for folklorist Alan Lomax seven years earlier (Can’t Be Satisfied).

87 Dinah Washington (1924-1963) “Am I Asking Too Much” 1948

Ruth Lee Jones worked as a restroom attendant in a Chicago nightclub, auditioned for Louis Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glazer, and became successful recording artist Dinah Washington. She died from an overdose of alcohol and medical pills (The Big Book of Blues).

86 Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) and Marie Knight (1925-2009) “Up Above My Head” 1948

Tharpe heard Marie Knight’s “rich contralto” voice at a gospel program in Harlem and invited her to tour together. “There was magic in the combination of Rosetta and Marie.” Their recording of this song “captured people’s budding hope that the late 1940's and early 1950's would bring about sorely overdue change.” They separated soon after Marie’s mother and children died in a fire the following year (Shout, Sister, Shout!).

September 16, 2015

85 Memphis Slim (1915-1988) and the House Rockers “Rockin’ the House” 1948

Born John Chatman, he was given the moniker “Memphis Slim” by Bluebird record producer Lester Melrose. Memphis Slim had a successful 60 year career composing, performing, and recording. He moved to Paris in 1962; until his death he was “the most prominent expatriate blues artist” (Encyclopedia of the Blues).  

84 The Orioles “It’s Too Soon To Know” 1948

“Along with the Ravens, the Orioles were considered the pioneers of rhythm and blues vocal harmony.” Many of their hit songs (written by their manager, Deborah Chessler) featured the tenor voice of Sonny Til (1928-1981) and accompaniment “that was felt rather than heard” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music).

83 Amos Milburn (1927-1980) “Chicken Shack Boogie” 1948

“The straight rhythm, the harsh sounds of the tenor saxophones, and the musical flights at the piano announced the urban trend of rock-and-roll that the pale Bill Haley was to embody” (Encyclopedia of the Blues).

82 Lonnie Johnson (1889-1970) “Tomorrow Night” 1948

“Johnson was one of the first great single-string jazz guitarists.” After recording his hit “Tomorrow Night,” he ended up as a janitor in a Philadelphia hotel. He was rediscovered, playing in a reunion concert with Duke Ellington and “Gained a new, young audience during the ‘60s folk/blues revival” (The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz).

81 Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972) “Move on Up a Little Higher” 1948

She left New Orleans as a teenager, moved to Chicago, worked as a laundress, and was discovered by a local gospel group singing at the Greater Salem Baptist Church. Recorded in 1947, “Move on Up” became a gospel best-seller (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Her rendition of “How I Got Over” at the Washington Freedom March was one of the electric moments, second only to King's “I have a dream”speech (History of Gospel Music, YouTube). 

Mahalia Jackson "Move on Up a Little Higher"

September 9, 2015

80 John Lee Hooker (1917-2001) “Boogie Chillen” 1948

He was a janitor at a Detroit auto factory when he recorded “one of the all-time classic songs in the blues treasury” (The Big Book of Blues). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

79 Wynonie Harris (1915-1969) “Good Rockin' Tonight” 1948

The song was first recorded by Roy Brown in 1947 and later by Elvis Presley. Harris’ sex-charged stage presence and “hell-raising vocals” “paved the way for the flood of rock & roll artists who followed him” (The Big Book of Blues).

78 Hank Williams (1923-1953) “Move It On Over” 1947

The song “betrayed his debt to black music. It rocked. The melody was as old as blues itself; a variant had done business as ‘Your Red Wagon’ and another variant became ‘Rock Around the Clock’” (Hank Williams The Biography).

77 T-Bone Walker (1910-1975) “Call It Stormy Monday” 1947

Walker helped Blind Lemon Jefferson, who was a family friend, navigate the streets of Dallas in the early 1920’s. His influential electric guitar style was partly “derived from Jefferson’s acoustic picking” (The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

76 The Trumpeteers “Milky White Way” 1947

The theme song for this popular gospel quartet’s radio program, featured on Memphis radio stations WDIA and KWAM which “fed large doses of black gospel to the city” (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music).  

September 3, 2015

75 Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) with the Dependable Boys “A Wonderful Time Up There (Gospel Boogie)” 1947

“The song originated with a popular Atlanta-area group, the Homeland Harmony Quartet” in 1945. Lee Roy Abernathy published the song and said, “I felt it was one way of reaching distant places where no ministers go” (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music). Many artists recorded “Gospel Boogie” but none quite like Rosetta Tharpe. “With a Gibson SG in her hands, Sister Rosetta could raise the dead. And that was before she started to sing” (Richard Williams, theguardian.com). 

74 The Ravens “Ol’ Man River” 1947

Founded by Jimmy Ricks and Warren “Birdland” Suttles, the Ravens were noteworthy for featuring a bass lead singer. They were key figures in developing ‘50s doo-wop (Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul).

The Ravens "Ol' Man River"

73 Bill Monroe (1911-1996) and the Blue Grass Boys “Blue Moon of Kentucky” 1947

A nervous young Elvis Presley met his idol at the Grand Ole Opry about his rocking remake of “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Monroe told him, “If it helps your career, I’m for it one hundred percent” (Can’t You Hear Me Callin’). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

72 Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup “That’s All Right, Mama” 1947

“Crudup first gained attention from black record buyers with his single, ‘If I Get Lucky,’ recorded in 1941…It was the first of many such singles hits during the ‘40s and early ‘50s” (Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul).

71 Bob Wills (1905-1975) and his Texas Playboys “New Spanish Two Step” 1946

“Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys’ 1945 visit to the Grand Ole Opry defied Nashville’s parochial proprieties. First, they arrived in a bus. They wore white, tailored western suits, white hats, and boots…People were also awestruck over his musical instrument display, which included electric guitars, amps, and a set of white pearl Slingerland drums…Ernest Tubb said, ‘Bob Wills is important because he put the beat in country music’” (Rosetta Wills, The King of Western Swing, 1998). 

August 29, 2015

70 Johnny Otis (1921-2012) “Harlem Nocturne” 1946

Otis said R&B bands were reduced versions of swing bands that started playing popular forms of blues. He was a “pivotal figure in the rise of both rhythm & blues and rock ‘n’ roll.” He became a gospel preacher in the mid 70’s and then revived his stage band a decade later (Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul). 

August 27, 2015

69 Ella Mae Morse (1924-1999) with the Freddie Slack (1910-1965) Band “The House of Blue Lights” 1946

Morse’s professional singing career stretched over fifty years from when she was a 12 year old. She was hired by Slack in 1942, with whom she made a best-seller hit, “Cow Cow Boogie” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Culture). 

68 Jack McVea (1914-2000) and his All Stars “Open the Door, Richard” 1946

Based on a vaudeville routine, the song was a Billboard hit in 1947. Saxophonist McVea played with other noted musicians like T-Bone Walker in Los Angeles’s Central Avenue jazz district during the 30’s and 40’s. He performed at Disneyland from 1966 to 1992 (Encyclopedia of the Blues).

Jack McVea and his All Stars "Open the Door, Richard"

67 The Golden Gate Quartet “Swing Down, Chariot” 1946

“The Golden Gates would remain the premiere close-harmony jubilee group until the public’s tastes changed in the mid-1950s, when they subsequently moved to France and successfully rejuvenated their careers” (People Get Ready).

66 The Delmore Brothers “Hillbilly Boogie” 1946

Brothers Alton (1908-1964) and Rabon (1916-1952) grew up on a dirt farm near Elkmont, Alabama. “Their close harmony work has been copied by numerous performers” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music).

August 21, 2015

65 The Nat King Cole Trio “Route 66” 1946

“Years have relegated to ancient history the extreme paradox of being a black star in a racist society, but Nat King Cole (1919-1965) lived that paradox. His records sold millions of copies, and women swooned when he sang, but he couldn’t be sure of getting a room in a good hotel” (Nat King Cole).  

64 T-Bone Walker (1910-1975) “Mean Old World” 1945

A recording agent from Houston heard a teenage Walker playing in Dallas. His jazz blues style transformed the guitar from a background rhythm instrument into the “dominant sound” of blues (Encyclopedia of the Blues).

T-Bone Walker "Mean Old World"

63 Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) “Strange Things Happening Every Day” 1945

“Strange Things” was a favorite of young white musicians such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. Lewis said, “Say, man, there’s a woman that can sing some rock and roll. I mean, she’s singing religious music, but she is singing rock and roll. She’s…shakin’, man…She jumps it. She’s hitting that guitar, playing that guitar and she is singing” (Shout, Sister, Shout). Her 1944 recording of “Down By the Riverside” is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

62 Arthur Smith (1921-2014) “Guitar Boogie” 1945

A WWII Navy vet, jazz and country band leader, Baptist Sunday School teacher and grocery store entrepreneur, Smith showed pop musicians what they could do with an electric guitar (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music).

61 Wynonie Harris (1915-1969) with the Lucky Millinder (1910-1966) Orchestra “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well” 1945

The “Millinder band paved the way for the R&B boom of the late 1940s.”

Wynonie Harris "Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well" 

August 18, 2015

60 Joe Liggins (1915-1987) and his Honeydrippers “The Honeydripper” 1945

Like Saunders King, Liggins and his band were staples of the West Coast blues. They “filled the gap between swing and early rock & roll.” They performed their style of music for the next forty years in California gigs (The Big Book of Blues).

59 Louis Jordan (1908-1975) and His Tympany Five “Caldonia” 1945

Jordan and his band played “jump style” rhythm and blues, “pointing to a new music that was just around the corner” (The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

Louis Jordan "Caldonia"

58 Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) with the Ink Spots “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” 1945

Fitzgerald toured with the Ink Spots after Chick Webb’s demise in 1939. Their “first million-selling disc” was “Into Each Life” performed with Fitzgerald. Music producer John Hammond said “I have had some great pure-jazz shows…But if you don’t have Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, or Dinah Washington as the headliner, you can forget it” (The Ella Fitzgerald Companion). 

Ella Fitzgerald with the Ink Spots "Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall"

57 Charles Brown (1922-1999) and the Three Blazers “Drifting Blues” 1945

A chemistry major at Prairie View A&M and high school science teacher, Brown moved to California to develop his suave blues style with guitarist Johnny Moore (1906-1969) (whose brother played with the Nat King Cole Trio) and bassist Eddie Williams (1912-1995) (The Big Book of Blues).

Charles Brown "Drifting Blues"

56 Louis Jordan (1908-1975) and his Tympani Five “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” 1944

Written by Billy Austin, a self-described “sailor, lumberjack and construction worker” (Let the Good Times Roll).

55 Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) “This Land Is Your Land” 1944

“America’s ‘alternative’ national anthem” (Encyclopedia of Popular Music). “You have summarized the struggles and the deeply held convictions of all those who love our land and fight to protect it. Sincerely yours, Stewart L. Udall, Secretary of the Interior” (Bound for Glory). Guthrie died from Huntington’s Chorea, a degenerative disease. Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

54 Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (1905-1974) “Rock Me Mamma” 1944

“The Father of Rock and Roll” never received royalties for songs others like Elvis Presley would make famous; he “died in near-poverty” (Encyclopedia of the Blues).  

53 The Nat King Cole Trio “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” 1944

“Gee, Baby” and the other songs recorded in with it “are widely regarded as the pinnacle of the King Cole Trio’s artistry” (Nat King Cole). 

August 10, 2015

52 The Nat King Cole Trio “Straighten Up and Fly Right” 1943

The first major hit of Cole (1917-1965) and his partners, guitarist Oscar Moore (1916-1981) and bassist Wesley Prince (1907-1980). His “talent as a jazz pianist and singer was almost totally obscured by his commercial success” (The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

Nat King Cole Trio "Straighten Up and Fly Right"

51 Saunders King (1909-2000) “S. K. Blues” 1942

An important figure in the California blues scene which featured mellow, jazz-like electronic sounds (Encyclopedia of the Blues).

July 17, 2015

50 Lionel Hampton (1908-2002) and his Orchestra with Illinois Jacquet (1922-2004) “Flying Home” 1942

Hampton popularized vibraphones in jazz bands and was introduced to tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet by Nat King Cole. Their hit featured Jacquet’s solo which influenced future rhythm and blues (The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz).   

July 15, 2015

49 Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) “Pastures of Plenty” 1941

“sung in the voice of the migrant agricultural worker” (Hard Travelin’).

48 Charlie Christian (1916-1942) and the Benny Goodman Sextet “Solo Flight” 1941

“the first modern jazz guitarist to play single-line improvisations on the electric guitar.” He auditioned for Benny Goodman (1909-1986), who “hired him on the spot.” Tuberculosis ended a brilliant career (The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz). 

47 Bob Wills (1905-1975) and his Texas Playboys “Take Me Back to Tulsa” 1941

Will’s music career started when he was ten in a Turkey (Texas) dancehall. His recipe for Western Swing: mix jazz dance sophistication, cowboy hats, and a San Antonio Rose with “fun and good times” (Country Music: The Rough Guide). 

46 The Will Bradley Orchestra “Down the Road a Piece” 1940

Born Wilbur Schwichtenberg, Bradley (1912-1989) formed a short-lived but successful band with drummer Ray McKinley (1910-1995) known for boogie-woogie hits. His later works were influenced by classical music. He played trombone for many years in bands such as the CBS studio orchestra (The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz).

45 The Dixie Hummingbirds “I'll Live Again” 1940

James B. Davis (1916-2007) formed this gospel group that performed at the legendary New York Café Society and “influenced other popular African American gospel vocal groups, as well as mainstream pop vocal groups from Motown” (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music).

44 Bill Monroe (1911-1996) and the Blue Grass Boys “Mule Skinner Blues” 1940

In their first Grand Ole Opry appearance, Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys performed this Jimmie Rodgers song and made it “his own” (The Big Book of Country Music).

Bill Monroe "Mule Skinner Blues"

43 The Ink Spots “If I Didn't Care” 1939

A popular quartet in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Lead tenor Jerry Daniels (1915-1995) became ill and was replaced by Bill Kenny (1914-1978), whose smooth falsetto made the song a major hit. The Ink Spots performed “If I Didn’t Care” in the 1941 film, “The Great American Broadcast” (The Encyclopedia of Popular Music).


42 Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) “Pretty Boy Floyd” 1939

“Like many an Oklahoma farmer, he had long taken a dim view of bankers” (Pete Seeger, Bound for Glory): “through this world I’ve wandered I’ve seen lots of funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen.” 

41 The Port of Harlem Jazzmen “Rocking The Blues” 1939

Elijah Wald writes that rock & roll evolved directly from the swing dance music. The same jazz musicians who played in swing dance bands easily transitioned into rock & roll bands. Louis Armstrong said, “There ain’t nothing new. Old soup used over”  (How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll). The Jazzmen “were a tremendous all-star ensemble” that “featured trumpeter Frankie Newton (1906-1954) and trombonist J. C. Higginbotham (1906-1973)” (www.bluenote.com).

Port of Harlem Jazzmen "Rocking the Blues"

July 14, 2015

40 Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) “This Train” 1939

The Godmother of Rock & Roll, Sister Rosetta “redefined the spaces between sacred and secular, black and white, traditional and commercial, and male and female” (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music).

Rosetta Tharpe "This Train"

39 Big Joe Turner (1911-1985) and Pete Johnson (1904-1967) “Roll 'Em Pete” 1939

Turner and pianist partner Pete Johnson were regulars at the integrated Café Society nightclub and injected their boogie-woogie rhythm-and-blues into mainstream white pop music. “Rock & roll would never have happened without him” (Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll).

Joe Turner "Roll 'Em Pete"

38 Jimmy Yancey (1894-1951) “Midnight Stomp” 1939

Yancey was a groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox who, in his spare time, influenced jazz and blues with his boogie-woogie piano (The Big Book of Blues). 

Jimmy Yancey "Midnight Stomp"

37 Billie Holiday (1915-1959) “Strange Fruit” 1939

“Whether they protested in Selma or took part in the March on Washington or spent their lives as social activists, many say that it was hearing “Strange Fruit” that triggered the process. It was Holiday’s signature song at New York’s integrated nightclub, “Café Society” (Strange Fruit). Listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. 

36 The Golden Gate Quartet “Rock My Soul” 1938

Together with the Mills Brothers, the Golden Gate Quartet (formed in 1930) introduced jazz harmonies, rhythms, and improvisations into vocal music. Eleanor Roosevelt scheduled them for her husband’s inaugural gala in 1941 (Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music). The founding members were students at Booker T. Washington College: William Langford (1910-1969), Henry Owens, Willie Johnson, and Orlandus Wilson. Their 1938 recording of  “John the Revelator” is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

The Golden Gate Quartet "Rock My Soul"

35 Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) with the Lucky Millinder (1910-1966) Orchestra “Rock Me” 1938

Her “bell-like voice, winning smile, and Cotton Club notoriety” made gospel music glamorous. She was the first successful gospel singer for Decca Records (Shout, Sister, Shout).  

July 13, 2015

34 Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) and Chick Webb's Orchestra “Rock It For Me” 1938

A “nonpareil interpreter of American songs,” Fitzgerald achieved fame singing an old children’s song ("A Tisket a Tasket") with Chick Webb (1905-1939) (The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music). 

33 Bob Wills (1905-1975) and his Texas Playboys “Ida Red” 1938 and “New San Antonio Rose” 1940

“According to both Wills and his musicians, the band in the late thirties and early forties was the best Wills ever had. This band—actually, two bands in one—gave Wills such breadth of repertory that it is doubtful any other orchestra in American musical history ever approached it. The band was reputed to have had a repertory of thirty-six hundred selections by 1938. This may account, at least in part, for Wills’s appeal to people of all ages and stages of life” (Charles Townsend, San Antonio Rose, 1976). A hit song for the Playboys, Chuck Berry would later transform Ida Red into Maybellene. Their 1940 recording of  “New San Antonio Rose” is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys "Ida Red"

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys "New San Antonio Rose"

32 Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson (1914-1948) “Early in the Morning” 1937

Taught himself harmonica as a young boy and traveled about as a hobo during the 1920’s and early 1930’s (The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music).