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 (

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).