rock & roll

August 16, 1957 – Buddy Holly & the Crickets at the Apollo Theater


Buddy Holly & the Crickets: L to R, Niki Sullivan, Jerry Allison, Holly, and Joe B. Mauldin

On August 16, 1957, Buddy Holly and his band, the Crickets, opened their one-week gig at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City.  Holly made his start in the music business in 1955 opening for Elvis Presley.  His style included rockabilly and rhythm and blues, which he helped fuse and transform into early rock and roll.  Decca Records and two of its subsidiaries signed Holly to recording contracts in 1956 and 1957 and it was at this time that he formed the Crickets.  With Buddy as lead guitar and vocalist, Niki Sullivan on guitar, Joe B. Mauldin on bass, and Jerry Allison on drums, the Crickets pioneered the standard instrumentation pattern for other rock bands to follow.  Buddy Holly was also one of the first in rock and roll to write, produce, and perform his own songs.  His first big hit single, released in May of 1957, was “That’ll Be the Day”, which was sitting atop the best-seller charts by September.

Holly is recognized as a major force in bridging the racial divide in American music.  People had trouble telling, just by listening to their recordings, whether the Crickets were white or African-American.  Their national tour of August, 1957, included performances at African-American neighborhood theaters, like Harlem’s Apollo Theater – the only white band to do so at the time.  It is rumored that the promoter at the Apollo booked Holly and his band in the mistaken belief that they were African-American.

The Apollo Theater became a powerhouse club during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s.  At that time, Harlem was rapidly becoming a African-American enclave within New York City, and owners Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher featured the best new African-American talent emerging on the scene.  Ella Fitzgerald made her debut there, and the long list of artists who got their start at the Apollo includes Billie Holliday, James Brown, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and many, many more.

It took several performances for the Apollo’s clientele to take to this new white guy, with his big glasses and “hiccup” delivery.  But when the final curtain came down on Holly and his band, many in the audience may have known that they had seen, as critic Bruce Elder put it, “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll”.

Apollo Theater

Image Credits: Brunswick Records; History of the Harlem Renaissance website

June 30, 1957 – The Everly Brothers Appear on The Ed Sullivan Show

On June 30, 1957, Ed Sullivan hosted Don and Phil Everly on his Sunday evening broadcast.  The Everly Brothers sang “Bye, Bye Love,” their first Cadence Records single which had been recorded in February.  An earlier recording, “Keep A’ Lovin’ Me” with Columbia Records in 1956, had been a flop.  Written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, “Bye, Bye Love” had been rejected by numerous artists, reportedly including Elvis Presley, before taking the close-harmonizing, guitar-playing duo to #2 on the pop charts and #1 on the country and R&B charts.  The Everly-Bryant team generated many hits, of which “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have to Do is Dream” are probably the best-known.  The Everlys toured extensively with Buddy Holly through 1957 and on into 1958.

Also on this episode of Sullivan’s show: footage from the premier of The Prince and the Showgirl at Radio City Music Hall.  Ed appeared in the clip with Bernard Baruch (financier, stock-market speculator, and economic advisor to Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt), Polly Bergen (actress and singer), William Randolph Hearst Jr.(editor-in-chief of Hearst Newspapers), Sugar Ray Robinson (welterweight and middleweight boxing champion), Ethel and Robert F. Kennedy (attorney, currently serving as Chief Counsel under Senator John L. McClellan on the US Senate Labor Rackets Committee), Marilyn Monroe (star of The Prince and the Showgirl), and Arthur Miller (famous playwright and Mr. Marilyn Monroe).  The audience was also treated to scenes from the newly-released movie.

For an extra treat, head on over to Getty Images to see news photos of Ed Sullivan adjusting Marilyn’s earring!


June 26, 1957 – Elvis Spends His First Night at Graceland



Elvis takes in the sights at Graceland, with a friend

On June 26, 1957, Elvis spent his first night at home at Graceland.  Fresh off the set of his third movie, “Jailhouse Rock” for MGM, Elvis arrived at the 10,250 square foot, tan limestone mansion set on 13.8 acres in Memphis, Tennessee three months after purchasing it in March for $102,500.  The classical revival-style mansion with large white entrance columns had been built in 1939 by Ruth Moore and her husband, Dr. Thomas Moore.  Ruth was the niece of Grace Toof, who was the daughter of S. C. Toof, founder of the Memphis commercial printing firm S.C. Toof & Co.  S. C. had purchased the property originally and named it Graceland Farms, after his daughter, who gave Ruth a portion of the land holdings after her father’s death.

Elvis had extensive modifications done to the mansion before he moved in, including the addition of the famous waterfall-containing Jungle Room, a swimming pool, and a racquetball court.  Over the years, Elvis expanded the mansion to almost 18,000 square feet, using a decorating philosophy that included swathes of white and red, accented with peacocks and leopard skin.  Friends generously described the interior as “tacky”, while critics used such terms as cheap, “gaudy”, “garish”, “phony”, and “turn-of-the-century bordello” style taken from New Orleans’ French Quarter.  “Tasteless white trash” was a general verdict.

Elvis had his revenge on the critics. Graceland is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  It is the second-most visited residence in the United States each year, after the White House.  Elvis is buried at Graceland, along with his parents and grandmother, in an area he had built and named Meditation Garden.

Image Credit: david/flickr