Race, Rock, and Elvis

Author: Michael T. Bertrand
Early rock music and changing race relations in the South
Paper – $20.95
Publication Date: 2005
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About the Book

Did Elvis Presley's brand of rock 'n' roll help revise racial attitudes in postwar America? Michael T. Bertrand delves into this question and many others to investigate popular music's revolutionary influence on black-white relations in the South.

Youthful fans of rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll, and other black-inspired music often broke from their segregationist elders and ignored the color line. Not coincidentally, these same young white people--the southern branch of a national and commercialized youth culture--led a general relaxation of racist attitudes. Bertrand argues that African American music facilitated a new recognition of black people as fellow human beings. African American audiences welcomed Elvis with enthusiasm while racially mixed audiences flocked to music venues at a time when adults expected separate performances for black and white audiences. Bertrand also describes the critical role of radio and recordings in making African American culture available to white fans on an unprecedented scale. Over time, southern working-class youth used the new music to define and express new values and build their own identities.

About the Author

Michael T. Bertrand is an associate professor of history at Tennessee State University.


Annual Book and Essay Award, Shelby County Historical Commission (Memphis, TN), 2001