The 1950’s: Big Cars and Bolder Music

By the early 1950’s, R&B, country, and pop all began to merge into a new style with a driving beat and a simple chord structure – a style that came to be called rock ‘n’ roll. By about 1956, with the rise of Elvis Presley, teenagers had embraced the new music and made it the focus of a snowballing American youth culture with themes of rebellion and alienation at its core.

The entertainment districts of Hastings Street and Paradise Valley were razed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the victims of urban renewal programs. This loss of music venues, along with the rise of Motown in Detroit and the popularity of rock and roll, led to the eventual demise of the Detroit blues scene in the late 1960s.

In the 1950s, Laura Lee and a young Della Reese began their long and distinguished careers coming out of the Meditations Singers, indisputably the premier Detroit-based, female gospel group of that era. Theirs was the first Motor City act to introduce instrumental backing to traditional acappella vocals. Della joined the ranks of the gospel elite in Detroit, while Mattie Moss Clark is believed to be the first to introduce a three-part harmony into gospel choral music.

Detroit has a long and rich history associated with rock and roll. In 1954 Hank Ballard & the Midnighters crossed over from the R&B charts to the pop charts with "Work with Me, Annie". The song nearly broke into the elite top 20 despite being barred from airplay on many stations due to its suggestive lyrics. In 1955, Detroit-native Bill Haley ushered in the rock and roll era with the release of "Rock Around the Clock".