The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia

The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia

The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia

The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia

Synopsis

American Bandstand, one of the most popular television shows ever, broadcast from Philadelphia in the late fifties, a time when that city had become a battleground for civil rights. Counter to host Dick Clark's claims that he integrated American Bandstand, this book reveals how the first national television program directed at teens discriminated against black youth during its early years and how black teens and civil rights advocates protested this discrimination. Matthew F. Delmont brings together major themes in American history--civil rights, rock and roll, television, and the emergence of a youth culture--as he tells how white families around American Bandstand's studio mobilized to maintain all-white neighborhoods and how local school officials reinforced segregation long after Brown vs. Board of Education. The Nicest Kids in Town powerfully illustrates how national issues and history have their roots in local situations, and how nostalgic representations of the past, like the musical film Hairspray, based on the American Bandstand era, can work as impediments to progress in the present.

Excerpt

In August 1957, teenagers across the country started watching teenagers in Philadelphia dance on television. Thanks to American Bandstand, the first national daily television program directed at teenagers, Philadelphia emerged as the epicenter of the national youth culture. The show broadcast nationally from Philadelphia every afternoon from 1957 to early1964 and featured performances by the biggest names in rock and roll. In addition to these musicians, the local Philadelphia teenagers who danced on the show became stars. For the millions of young people across the country who watched the program every day on television, these Philadelphia youth helped to shape the image of what teenagers looked like.

More than fifty years after the show first broadcast, American Bandstand’s representations of youth culture remain closely linked both to the show’s legacy and to larger questions about popular culture, race, segregation, and civil rights. Billboard magazine journalist Fred Bronson, for example, argues that American Bandstand was a “force for social good.” Bronson bases this claim on Dick Clark’s memory that he integrated the show’s studio audience when he became the host in 1957. “I don’t think of myself as a hero or civil rights activist for integrating the show,” Clark contends, “it was simply the right thing to do.” In the context of local and national mobilization in favor of segregation, underscored by widespread antiblack racism, integrating American Bandstand would have been a bold move and a powerful symbol. Broadcasting daily evidence of Philadelphia’s vibrant interracial teenage culture . . .

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