Wednesday, 18 April 2012

If There's a Rock 'N Roll Heaven ... RIP, Dick Clark

John Springer Collection / CORBIS

Some of my happiest memories of being a child in the mid-70s were of spending early Saturday afternoons, after the morning cartoons were over, watching American Bandstand with my mother. I get my love of music and pop culture from her. Watching the bands and singers perform and the dancers dance and the host, Dick Clark, countdown that week's Top Ten hits while seated amongst a swaying, finger-snapping audience was great, light fun. On American Bandstand, I witnessed the arrival of disco with folks like Barry White, the Hues Corporation and KC and the Sunshine Band, pop acts like the Captain and Tennille, Elton John and the Jacksons, and early New Wave acts like Devo, Blondie and the Knack.

Today, just a few short months after we lost Don Cornelius, long-time host of Soul Train (the African-American Bandstand), Dick Clark, the host of American Bandstand from 1956 onwards, passed away at the age of 82. Clark was also, back in the day, host of the daytime TV game show, 25,000 Pyramid (another viewing staple around the house), the co-host along with Tonight Show bandleader Ed McMahon of Bloopers and Practical Jokes, and the long-time host of the annual Rockin' New Year's Eve countdown which included his broadcast from Time Square as the red ball descended marking the arrival of another year.

But, it was American Bandstand that put Philadelphia's pop acts on the map. Philly was known for its musicians and singers (jazz artists like John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott and "Philly" Joe Jones and soul acts like Tammi Terrell), but the rock and roll era brought forth new R&B and pop talent, largely in the form of vocal groups (Danny and The Juniors, the Orlons and the Dovells) and teen pop stars (Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell). Clark's show brought them as well as many others, particularly African-American artists, to a national audience.

Clark had not founded the show, that honour goes to former radio DJ Bob Horn who had started it as simply Bandstand, and extension of his WFIL-AM radio program Bob Horn's Bandstand. Horn hosted the show from 1952 to 1956 and was, then, succeeded temporarily by show producer Tony Mammarella before Clark took over. Clark ended the show's all-white policy on the music artists featured. Clark and Mammarella later co-founded the pop label Swan Records which helped launch Philly soul with groups like the Sapphires, the Blue Notes (years before Teddy Pendergrass joined) and the Three Degrees.

All three Bandstand hosts have now passed on.

I will always remember the simple joy of watching Bandstand as a child. Many thanks to "America's longest living teenager"! So long!

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