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How the Blues Affected Race Relations in the United States

Minstrel and Medicine shows

Early appreciation for black music
White interest in black music
Integration of Musicians
Covers & Dances
Integrated Radio
Blues & Rock
Works Consulted
Thank you

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Black radio programs were another tool that slowly tore away at the boundaries between Alan Freedthe two races in society. Their appeal to teenagers led to the development and success of integrated radio programs. The most successful DJ to play R&B music for his integrated audience was Alan Freed1. Freed 's inspiration for his show came one day while in a local record store he noticed a group of white teenagers buying R&B records. His syndicated afterschool broadcast was called "Alan Freed's Moon Dog House Rock 'n' Roll Party" which began airing in 1951 on WJW out of Cleveland, Ohio. In March of 1952 he drew in 8,000 more fans than seats to the Cleveland Arena with his Moon Dog Coronation Ball2.

Brian Ward, author of Just My Soul Responding, asserts that black radio shows worked to destroy racial perimeters of the creation and consumption of music. "This was a commercial and cultural development which many hoped and some believed heralded a new era of race relations." The first fans of r&b were not (as critics sometimes regard them) lower class or derelict whites, but they seemed to be drawn from all types of classes and geographic locations throughout the country3.

Ward tells a story in his book of Shelley "The Playboy" Stewart who was a self-taught black man who began his radio show in August, 1949 at WEDR in Birmingham, Alabama. The station's white owner, J. Edward Reynolds, cautiously declared that his new black-oriented radio station planned to keep away from social issues. Stewart commented, "It was about dollars and cents. It was not about supporting racial justice4." Stewart's oratorical talent gained him popularity among the white teens during the early 1950s, so much that he even claimed to have a white fan club5. Stewart thought, "music really started breaking the barriers before the politics in America began to deal with it. [The races] began to communicate…because of the music…and the black radio in the black community being accepted and enjoyed…by the white community6."

There was one specific occurrence that Stewart believes demonstrates how the music was beneficial in soothing racial divisions during this time. It happened on July 14, 1960, just when Stewart arrived to host his weekly, white-only "record hop" in a town close to Birmingham called Bessemer. Just before Stewart was scheduled to begin the show, the club manager, Ray Mahoney informed him that around 80 members of the Ku Klux Klan had gathered outside the building, planning to attack him. When he told his white audience members that the show must end prematurely because "the klan did not think Shelley 'The Playboy' was good enough to play for them," Stewart said "those 800 white kids burst out those doors and jumped on the klan…fighting for me." Afterwards Stewart commented, "It was a surprising thing to see that the white teenagers were the ones to actually save my life. If it were not for the white teenagers, I doubt if I would have made it out of the club that night. I may not be able to play for these kids again soon, but someday I'll be able to give them the entertainment that they want without any trouble7."

1. Palmer, 224
2. Friedlander, 23
3. Ward, 37
4. Ward, 33
5. That Rhythm, Those Blues
6. Ward, 128
7. Ward, 128-129
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