Boogaloo: The Quintessence of American Popular Music

By Porter, Shane | Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Boogaloo: The Quintessence of American Popular Music


Porter, Shane, Phi Kappa Phi Forum


Arthur Kempton. Boogaloo: The Quintessence of American Popular Music. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003. 480 Pages. $19.95 (Paper)

Every summer across the South there are reunions of graduates of defunct black high schools that become occasions of attendees' rueful reflections on how much was lost to children in their communities when desegregation washed away our schools. At least then the socially conservative traditions of Aframerican life were intact enough to produce people who withstood the worst assault of outsiders. (page 5.)

This quotation from Arrhur Kempton's Boogaloo: The Quintessence of American Popular Music sums up my own admiration for great African American icons and musicians who withstood many obstacles to achieve their deserved place in history. The night I heard "Strange Fruit" for the first time, I wept. From that day I became increasingly intrigued with the obstructions Aframericans had placed in front of them by society and even more intrigued with the great men and woman who would respond and ultimately prevail. Reading Boogaloo was like reliving a conversation that my fellow Southern musicians and I have frequently about popular music starting in the South, in the Delta, and in New Orleans and moving its way up North.

Dancing has been prevalent in America's popular culture since the turn of the last century and up through the swing craze, with dance names such as "The Shim Sham Shimmy," "The Charleston," "The Lindy Hop," and many more. "Boogaloo" is no different; it is a dance term and a description of an era that began in the mid 1960s. Although this dance style, which blends Soul music, Rock and Roll, and Latino Mambo, is credited with developing in New York, in 1965 the comedic banter and dance duo Tom and Jerrio (Robert "Tommy Dark" Tharp and Jerry J. Murray) popularized the term and dance when they made the record entitled "Boogaloo." This record and dance hit the consumer market, with the help of American Bandstand, and spread like a huge wave across America to enter the slang vocabulary of the young black population.

Arthur Kempton, a native of Princeton, New Jersey, spent much of his life involved in black musical culture. At an early age, Kempton's father took him to various black churches throughout New Jersey. His interest in black entertainment motivated the young Kempton to find his way to attend shows at the Apollo Theatre. He became a disc jockey and eventually took over the show "For Lovers Only" on Boston's WTBS. Kempton has been an educational consultant and top level administrator in the Boston Public Schools. Having a BA in English from Harvard, Kempton has provided services for The New York Review of Books as well as being the author of Boogaloo.

The fifteen-chapter book is divided into three separate sections, each with historical significance to the development of black and American popular music. "Sightseers in Beulah" glances into the musical life of Sam Cooke and Thomas A. Dorsey. Kempton takes you through the oppression, development, and achievement of both: Dorsey, once known as "the king of the night" to ultimately becoming "The Father of Gospel Music" with his composition of Dr. …

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