Last updated: March 27, 2019
Topic: ArtDesign
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Memphis during 1948-1956

The focal point of this paper is to argue persuasively that Memphis during 1948-1956 exerted a powerful impact on civilization and that these specific achievements continue to affect us today. In order to emphasize the uniqueness of Memphis, it would be ensured to account for why these developments happened in this place at this particular time.

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It could be mentioned in the initial stages that it was degeneration time. Imperialism had taken its tolls on the world, which was grilling on the last fires of the Second World War. The losses were too heavy, and the shocks, almost unbearable. People just lived through a test of the extent organized cruelty and purposeful ruthlessness could reach. As far as the future was concerned, the initial tremors of what would lead to a massive cross across the globe were being felt – the crack that broke it up into three distinctly different worlds, the first, the second and the third.

In this context it would be relevant to mention that the generation was not finding their existence worth while or in other words they wanted more out of their life. This extra bit was searched everywhere and at every aspects of life and music was no different. Memphis came to this need of the hour with quite a few new faces budding with musical talents and a whole new genus of music called the rock ‘n’ roll.

It was regeneration time. Ideological conflicts and military interests were shaking civilization right up to its foundations. The doubts, dilemmas and confusions were gradually, quite slowly indeed, giving way to a new and unique cultural revolution. It was happening all across the United States. People suddenly seemed to realize that there was enough of political warfare to disgrace humanity. The prevailing standards suddenly seemed to be meaningless, and the insurgent youths wanted something different to happen.

Memphis was no exception to this movement. As a matter of fact, it was one of the cores of it. The presence of a large number of African-Americans in the city was pushing it ahead to initiate the Civil Rights Movement. Something that had laid its roots in the human mind over a few millennia, apartheid that is, was gradually being uprooted by the new wave of what started being called the rock ‘n’ roll movement.  The existing musical trends, blues and country, did not suffice in expressing the protests and grievances of the new generation, which started looking at itself as a victim of political conspiracies.

It could be stated that the focal point of this paper is realizing that what occurred in Memphis during the era of 1950s that was instrumental in giving the birth of rock n’ roll. It was the perfect stage for somebody who would be known as the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll in the future to make an appearance. So he did, Elvis Presley, and shook the world with his voice and gestures. And with him, Memphis had its name written in golden letters in the history of western music. It should be mentioned in this context that the advancements in recording enabling the music to spread like wild fire throughout the U.S and Music companies like Sun Recording was right on the note to yield most out of it by featuring few of the most talented artists of the time and identifying a whole new form of music called rock ‘n’ roll as newest success story. This was deeply influenced by the presence of the African American population in Memphis and influenced the musical development by a huge margin with musical forms that incorporated jazz meshing with country music, for example White Hill country music creating a new sound of rock’ n roll.

But the basic background of this movement started much earlier and it would be relevant to mention that the black community contributed hugely to this movement. African American history and the context in this case is the great migration during the 1900s. While looking into the matter it can primary be mentioned that migration is a subject that is studied on all levels when dealing with humanity and its idiosyncrasies. In order to understand migration we must understand the various components involved in migration, including internal migration, external migration, immigration and both refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. During the early twentieth century, especially in the first couple of decades, it was found that the population of Indianapolis with specification of African American origin has doubled within a span of 20 years.

The same phenomenon happened in Memphis. The population escalated to a high note and this time the immigrants were there in the region to put their hands on the industrial boom relation to cottage industries. This was obviously not at par with any single industry like Detroit but the cumulative sum total of the gross output became quite high and the settlements showed the white population of the area that there was more to music than usual traditional themes. These people use to gather around at the evening and presented their compositions to themselves. It was a leisurely approach but people like Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash soon found out that these rural touch of music can be polished and urbanized to develop into a new form of musical genera that was ultimately to be known as Rock ’n’ roll and as these people were from Memphis this region was to harvest most of the credit of this new form of music.

However, it could be mentioned that the great migration during the 1900s brought a distinct development within the parameters of the city culture. It was soon found that the abundance of automobiles enabled the white communities to move out of the proper city and reside at the suburbs leaving the population of African-American origin to the older section of the cities making them live nearby to the downtown areas. Thus the cities became a flourishing prospect for the population of African-American origin and as a result businesses, organizations and buildings of black origin became more visible within the cities and the African-Americans started to incorporate themselves within the main stream of the American culture with a distinct identity of their own.

This was the end result or positive outcome of the great migration during the 1900s. This specific culture brought in by the black communities ultimately helped comparatively small town cultures to develop distinct aspects like Rock ’n’ Roll. (Kar, 2006) It is true that the black community was a real influence in shaping music of Memphis during the era of 1948-1956. The main tool of their protest was music and the reason of protest was lack of justice.

The life styles of the early 1950’s through the later 1950’s have emerged as fallout of the booming economy that is represented by the generation of ‘baby boomers’. The hardship during the days of the Second World War gave birth to the newest possible philosophies that state it is obvious to follow the trend of open market economy with all its perception of high yielding materialism. This hard cored materialism and pro life oriented attitude was previously known in the western world but now it came into a maximized form which sociologist refer as a pro active action against the mass destruction and insecurity of the last great war. The latest philosophy was to obtain as much as possible that life has to offer. Every social aspect changed with it and along with it changed the world around them.

Plays and writer were no different. Colours became more vibrant and approach became more outrageous to keep up with the society. Joe Orton’s plays were a product of this period. Memphis was ready for this change and it only needed a spark to ignite its whole new musical genus. This was provided by the endowments of talented musicians like Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. These people were to become the pride of Memphis and the area soo came to be known as the cradle of Rock ‘n’ roll.

The funny side of this approach was however different from the basic perception of the life styles of the early 1950’s through the later 1950 were a confluence of conflicting philosophies. As it was mentioned earlier that the idea of materialism was at its had hitting best but alternatively the simplicities of eastern philosophies, specifically Indian philosophies, were highly acclaimed though it was concentrated within a certain group of people. As a result, the poets and the writers, as least a section of them, who took their inspirations from life and society it self, inclined themselves towards the approach of simplistic formations of art forms. (Fletcher, 135-9) It is a well known fact and it has been shown time and again by many literary historians and researchers that the main targeted audience were the baby boomers who had all the opportunities to take all the advantages of almost any and every marketing gimmicks. Memphis and its music were not far behind in this era. The musicians of this time needed something more vibrant and colourful and Rock ’n’ Roll came out as the product of the time.

It should be remembered that this was the era of the beginning of the ‘cold wars’ too and fascination of the authorities towards the space age race and nuclear future was overwhelming. So, it is obvious that the common demography of the country started mimicking the perception of the authorities taking the concept of space age right to their likings. As a result the musical designers could not be left far behind. They associated their music with the latest gizmos and presented the feature of Rock ’n’ Roll as new age revolution. The problem was that the new generation was unable to recognize themselves with the usual blues and other traditional forms. They wanted something exclusively that is easily identifiable to them. Rock ‘n’ Roll Music provided that element which included the latest approach to music with more flair and flamboyance. This music possessed more swings and action and this was what the generation of 1950’s wanted. Memphis provided this exact genus of music.

The innovative and diversified methodology utilized between these two decades reflects a change in society’s considerations. The choice to change furniture styles reflects a great deal on the emotional status of the era and the need to recover from a series of devastating events. Those devastating events included World War II and a very emotional roller coaster in the depression era which wrought havoc in many ways on the methods of production and the economic infrastructure of the United States. The devastation involved during World War II provided impetus for the designers from various European countries to flee to the United States for sanctuary and freedom of expression. This is where the innovation for the new modern style of music was managed.

The 1950’s period was indeed a lively decade for arts and technology where many forces emerged influencing changes in musical design. The push of space travel, the defense industry and consumer booms provided impetus toward increased influences of fashion in lifestyle design. Cheap yet fashionable articles made to be thrown away afterwards became fashionable for household interiors. Youths of the era became a strong influence on this era of design by attacking the principles of tradition in many ways including interior design. Designers were intrigued and influenced by fantasy films, space travel and its mystique and more. Later this attitude was became more relevant with pop art culture, the Beatles, Woodstock, Peace, Love, Psycadelia and the Youth Force.

Counter Cultural / Youth Movement along with abolishment of censorship in 1958, the Decriminalisation of Homosexual Practice between Consenting Adults, the Second Wave Feminism all juxtaposed to form a huge cultural turmoil during the era. As an example the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s as this would serve as the conceptual and strategic model of the main objective.  Alongside, variations in definitions of social and racial justice and strategy were equally important along with re evaluation of the authority of the church. In this context the music of the city of Memphis found its voice as a method of protest against all odds. This was more ignited with the inclusion of fight against racism in America.

One of the most compelling developments of our age is the recognition of multicultural of multiracial society and how they translate to each and every individual. The challenge is not just in recognizing other races but more importantly the culture and heritage of people must also be recognized. Are people becoming aware and accepting of others? Are people’s view and minds growing broader? Is intolerance being decreased? Are we now on the path of building a society that does not just recognizes cultural and racial diversity but celebrates it? As much as we would like to think that we are accomplishing this, current evidences show that there is still much to do.

The emergence of African American Studies as an important field of study is a recognition of the struggle against racial discrimination and oppression (Giddings, 153-156). Today, there have been significant strides in institutionalizing the development of programs that are studying the best approaches and methods to bring the concerns of the African Americans in society in the country’s premiere Universities such as Temple and Harvard. Recent studies in the field indicate that though there are no more significant explicit social barriers to African Americans, they are still challenged by historical marginalization and disenfranchisement (Carby 339-340). It is obvious that these functionalities were more relevant in the 1950’s and Memphis being the heart of radical musical movement could not escape this aspect. Rock ‘n’ Roll Music soon became a tool against injustice but in a rather different mode than blues and other traditional musical designs. The Sun Records appeared during this time in 1952 launched by Sam Philips.

This studio soon became a landmark in Memphis with its address being 706 Union Avenue and featured talented musicians like Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Later in the mid 1950’s Philips made history in the perspective of music with characters like Elvis Presley and changed the mode of the aspects of music for eternity. It could be mentioned that Philips understood the changing need of the society concerning music and touched the perfect note by encouraging the potential of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music by launching new faces and talents that gave the golden age of Memphis in the map of music.

If we look closely enough, we would find that industrial revolution freed the entrepreneurs from the usual bondage of traditional economy and for the general it was the time for a new social bondage free from the earlier pseudo- feudal economic system. But all these developments also brought in new learning and new ideologies where ideas of human rights occupied a major role and phrases like “I don’t have my family anymore“ was easy to come by with its influence. (Minton, 1993) In this context and social structure it would have been very hard to digest the ideals of imperial expansions through the method of brutal strength.

This hard pill of ‘colonialism with brutality’ needed some spooning with sweetness to become a favorable aromatic digestible element for the general people of the imperial states. As a result this phrase ‘white man’s burden’ came into existence as a remedy to the enlightens of the industrial revolution and people were ready to buy this theory as this theory easily softened the guilt feeling of the educated class and apparently justified the brutal acts and decisions taken to control and cover the colonial agitations. It is not that the leaders of men and the men of their leaders never knew what was really going wrong in these colonies but kept both eyes blind towards these acts. This is because all of them and all the way they knew everything they did and everything they knew about the colonies were either immoral or tampered to the extent of fallacy but could never digest the fact as it was too decadent for their psyche. The failure of Rock ‘n’ roll lies in this perspective.

But it is a truth in this same context that not every aspect of life can be covered in one movement. It is true that the movement of music in the form of Rock ‘n’ roll developed and reached at a great height but at the same time it is also a fact that it died out soon in its original form. However, the music of this era left a long standing legacy for generations to come in different forms and designs of music along with different issues to protest.



Fletcher, R; (2003); Beliefs and Knowledge: Believing and Knowing; Howard & Price.

Kar, P; (2006); History of Borders and related problems of Migration; Dasgupta & Chatterjee.

King, H; (2001); International Relations Today; HBT & Brooks Ltd.

Lamb, Davis; (2004); Cult to Culture: The Development of Civilization on the Strategic Strata; National Book Trust.

Madhav, S. (2006); The Effective Measures against Human Traffic; People’s Monthly; Alliance Publishers.  3 (6). 17, pare 6

Carby, Hazel V. “’It Jus Be’s Dat Way Sometime’: The Sexual Politics of Women’s Blues,”. 330-341

Giddings, Paula. When and Where I Enter: The impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, 1984

Minton, Lynn; 1993; Is it okay to date someone of another race; Parade, Issue December 15, 1993