Historical Markers
American Bandstand Historical Marker
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American Bandstand

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
4601 Market Street, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
August 5, 1997

Behind the Marker

During the late 1940s and 1950s, an active jazz scene and emerging Rhythm and Blues scene co-existed in Philadelphia. Beboppers like Jimmy Oliver, markerJohn Coltrane and Jimmy Heath played the same clubs for the same audiences and on the same bills as more R and B flavored players like the turbaned saxophonist Lynn Hope, organist Jimmy Smith and blues singer Big Maybelle. Both music venues were part of the cultural fabric of the city's black community. Though Philadelphia had several jazz clubs and many jazz bars, only one club, "The Downbeat" in downtown Philadelphia, catered to an integrated clientele.

By the 1960s, however, jazz was in a commercial decline. The emerging division in black music coincided with the rise of a new popular music based on other black music forms. The "new pop" got a jump-start in 1957 when a local Philadelphia Teen Television dance party went national on ABC, under the name "American Bandstand."

Hosted and produced by a local Philly disc jockey, Dick Clark, American Bandstand provided a national stage for Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues stars like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, and also created new stars, dances and styles for the emerging teen culture of the late 1950s, and early 1960s.
A young Dick Clark is seated in the front row of an audience of young people, next to a smiling Bobby Rydell.
American Bandstand host Dick Clark speaking with singer Bobby Rydell in front...

American Bandstand also helped make Philadelphia a center of the music recording industry. New labels like Cameo and Parkway, which existed primarily to create acts for Bandstand, grew into major Independent record labels.

Local Philadelphia acts like Danny and the Juniors, the Dovells, the Orlons, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, James Darren, Chubby Checker and Dee Dee Sharp sold millions of records. The Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Watusi, the Pony and other dances created or popularized on Bandstand swept across the nation. There was an entire substratum of local Philadelphia record producers, writers, arrangers, recording engineers and musicians who began their careers in the music industry creating the music for the Bandstand assembly line.

The great strength of the Bandstand phenomenon was its assembly line approach to music production and dissemination and this same assembly line approach was also its greatest weakness. Ultimately the Bandstand acts, even with their great built-in advantages, could not compete with more authentic music, whether it was British Invasion bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, or the gospel inspired Soul Music of Aretha Franklin and Sam and Dave. Although American Bandstand continued on for twenty-five more years, by the mid-Sixties, the Bandstand spell was broken.

In the meantime, jazz lost much of its role as popular music. The dance elements had gone the way of the big band. The funky organ based music of the 1950s was fading. Jazz in the 1960s developed a complex and often raucous sound, which influenced and drew inspiration from Rock and Roll.

In fact, jazz groups led by Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and others shared stages with Yes, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana and other rock bands. For a short while, even avant-garde jazz, like Coltrane's, became popular.

Coltrane's recording of "My Favorite Things" became a hit in the early 60s and his very challenging work "A Love Supreme," a four-part suite, was a hit in 1965, and remains one of the best selling jazz recordings. But jazz really never became popular music again, and still only accounts for a tiny percentage of the music business. Now, there are still attempts to blend jazz with popular forms of music. One example is the recent recording "The Philadelphia Experiment" which brings together jazz bassist Christian McBride, funk/hip hop drummer Ahmir Thompson and jazz and classical pianist Uri Caine, all Philadelphians.
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