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The Nicest Kids in Town

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

Matthew F. Delmont
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Nicest Kids in Town
    Book Description:

    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 integratedAmerican 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 aroundAmerican Bandstand'sstudio mobilized to maintain all-white neighborhoods and how local school officials reinforced segregation long after Brown vs. Board of Education.The Nicest Kids in Townpowerfully illustrates how national issues and history have their roots in local situations, and how nostalgic representations of the past, like the musical filmHairspray,based on theAmerican Bandstandera, can work as impediments to progress in the present.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95160-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In August 1957, teenagers across the country started watching teenagers in Philadelphia dance on television. Thanks toAmerican 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 early 1964 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...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Making Philadelphia Safe for “WFIL-adelphia” Television, Housing, and Defensive Localism in Bandstand’s Backyard
    (pp. 11-49)

    Throughout 1954, white and African American teenagers fought outside of WFIL-TV’s West Philadelphia studio on an almost daily basis. Philadelphia experienced more than its share of racial tension in this era, but these teenager brawls stand out because they were sparked by a television program. WFIL-TV broadcast the popular, regionally televised teenage dance showBandstand(which became the nationally televisedAmerican Bandstandin 1957). It broadcastBandstandto parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, a four-state region it called “WFIL-adelphia.” In its calls for advertisers, WFIL emphasized the station’s ability to help advertisers reach millions of these regional...

  7. CHAPTER 2 They Shall Be Heard Local Television as a Civil Rights Battleground
    (pp. 50-67)

    They Shall Be Heardis a road not taken. WhileBandstandintroduced Philadelphia teenagers to new popular music, dances, and fashion styles, another local program used television to educate teenagers about intercultural issues. Produced by the Fellowship Commission,They Shall Be Heard(1952–53) gathered a group of teenagers for a weekly televised discussion about racial and religious prejudice. UnlikeBandstand, which adopted admissions policies that excluded black teenagers,They Shall Be Heardbrought together students of different racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. AsBandstandmarked television as a place restricted to white consumers,They Shall Be Heardintroduced its...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The de Facto Dilemma Fighting Segregation in Philadelphia Public Schools
    (pp. 68-100)

    When the Philadelphia School Board published “For Every Child: The Story of Integration in the Philadelphia Public Schools” in 1960, it was the latest and most public rejoinder to the civil rights advocates who criticized the board for failing to address school segregation throughout the 1950s. As school officials continued to issue statements of their progress on integration, however, the city’s public schools grew more racially segregated. Philadelphia illuminates the dilemma posed by de facto school segregation. While many educational activists used the termde facto segregationto describe the discriminatory practices of schools outside the South, for school board...

  9. CHAPTER 4 From Little Rock to Philadelphia Making de Facto School Segregation a Media Issue
    (pp. 101-125)

    In her introduction toFreedom North, historian Jeanne Theoharis contends that in “history textbooks, college classrooms, films, and popular celebration, African American protest movements in the North appear as ancillary and subsequent to the ‘real’ movement in the South.”¹ Such histories, Thomas Sugrue suggests, “are as much the product of forgetting as of remembering.”² Thanks to work by Theoharis, Sugrue, Komozi Woodard, Martha Biondi, Matthew Countryman, and many other historians, the story of civil rights in the North is no longer a footnote. Calling attention to northern civil rights struggles was also a cause for concern for Philadelphia activists in...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Rise of Rock and Roll in Philadelphia Georgie Woods, Mitch Thomas, and Dick Clark
    (pp. 126-156)

    Starting in 1957, millions of teenagers across the country tuned intoAmerican Bandstandevery afternoon to watch Philadelphia teenagers dance to the most popular music of the day. The history ofAmerican Bandstand, however, starts not on national television, but with the rise of rock and roll in Philadelphia through radio, concerts, record hops, talent shows, and local television. Like youth across the country, Philadelphia teenagers found meaning in rock and roll, but they did so in ways that were mediated by deejays who sought to capitalize on the music’s popularity with youth. At the same time, these deejays introduced...

  11. CHAPTER 6 “They’ll Be Rockin’ on Bandstand, in Philadelphia, P.A.” Imagining National Youth Culture on American Bandstand
    (pp. 157-179)

    It was no accident that Chuck Berry made reference toAmerican Bandstandwhen he released “Sweet Little Sixteen” in January 1958. Berry made his national television debut onAmerican Bandstandin 1957, and including these lyrics helped ensure that this new song would receive ample airtime on the program. Indeed, Dick Clark later recalled “Sometimes we heard a hit the first time we played the record—Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ was like that.”¹ Berry’s song reached number two on the Billboard chart and stayed on the chart for sixteen weeks, thanks in large part to its frequent exposure on...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Remembering American Bandstand, Forgetting Segregation
    (pp. 180-194)

    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, and civil rights. Since the late 1970s, Dick Clark has claimed that he integrated the show’s studio audience when he became the host in 1957. The problem is, Clark’s memory runs counter to the historical record. Black teenagers contestedAmerican Bandstand’s racially discriminatory admission policies on several occasions, inspired both by the everyday discrimination they faced in Philadelphia and by national civil rights events like the Little Rock school...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Still Boppin’ on Bandstand American Dreams, Hairspray, and American Bandstand in the 2000s
    (pp. 195-222)

    For a show that left television in 1989,American Bandstandwas very busy in the 2000s. In 2007, Time Life promoted “Dick Clark’s American Bandstand 50th Anniversary Collection” through television infomercials.¹ This twelve-CD box set, like the dozens of other compilations over the past half-century, marketed the history of rock and roll under theAmerican Bandstandand Dick Clark brands. Numerous media outlets also paid tribute toAmerican Bandstand’s fiftieth anniversary, includingGood Morning America, which describedBandstandas a generation-defining show for baby boomers and tracedBandstand’s influence on the contemporary reality television programAmerican Idol.² Two months before...

  14. Conclusion Everybody Knows about American Bandstand
    (pp. 223-228)

    While Nina Simone never performed onAmerican Bandstand, her song “Mississippi Goddam” offers a lens through which to examine the issues at the heart of this book. In her autobiography, Simone recalled that she wrote “Mississippi Goddam” in response to two tragic events that shocked the nation:

    I was sitting there in my den … when news came over the radio that somebody had thrown dynamite into the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama while black children were attending a Bible study class. … It was more than I could take, and I sat struck dumb in my den...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 229-282)
  16. Index
    (pp. 283-294)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-297)