Rock and Roll (1950-1970’s)

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Malone, Bill C., and David Stricklin. “The 1960s and 1970s: Rock, Gospel, Soul.” In Southern Music/American Music, 108-28. University Press of Kentucky, 1979.

“The 1960s and 1970s: Rock, Gospel, Soul” provides background on the themes and intersections that rock, gospel and soul music held in the 1960s and the 1970s. The article is useful in outlining the cultural and societal meanings of each genre as each rose to fame in different ways, but joined together to be create the “southern musical experience” [1]. The United States saw an invasion of British rock n’ rollers in the 1960’s with the arrival of The Beatles, an era that brought “long hair, unconventional dress, illicit drug use, sexual freedom, and hostility toward or disinterest in politics or civic and religious authority figures” to American society [2]. The article cites the beginning career of Janis Joplin as tragic, as in the South “her slightly plump physical appearance and awkward self-consciousness meant she would never live up to the teen starlet image young middle-class women were expected to emulate in the early 1960s” [3]. The article holds significance because it mentions the careers of multiple prominent female singers in rock, gospel and soul music, like Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton, Selena Quintanella, Tish Hinojoso, Mahalia Jackson, naming their impact in the music industry and giving context to each singer.

Tina Turner on stage by Dorothy Morgan, in Vogue Magazine

Tina Turner on stage, singing into a microphone in its stand, one arm out to her side, the other lifted but partially obscured, and wearing a long-sleeved, short sequin shift

Tina Turner is one of the most influential women in the music industry throughout the 1960’s and beyond, a performer who crossed racial and gender lines with her music that was spanned different genres and influences of R&B, pop and rock. Known for songs that hold narratives of independence, power, femininity, sexual prowess and womanhood, Turner, a black woman, made her mark with her songs as well as her position within the rock and roll industry, where most other singers, producers and songwriters were white British men. Turner sold millions of records and earned eleven Grammy awards over the course of her career [4]. The image of Tina Turner performing on stage published in Vogue Magazine encapsulates her powerful presence as a performer and within the music industry, a black woman who paved the way for many other women in music, with her fierce expressions of her blackness and womanhood in her music.

The Runaways “Cherry Bomb” live in Japan, 1977

Well-known throughout history as the first female rock band to ever exist, The Runaways rose to fame in the late 1970’s with their edgy, fearless, punk-rock music that rejected the traditional roles that woman in music had held up until then. It wasn’t until around the 1970’s that female musicians and music groups started to become famous not just as vocalists, but as instrumentalists, with Joan Jett as the singer and rhythm guitarist; Sandy West, the drummer; Jackie Fox, one in a succession of bassists; Lita Ford, the lead guitarist; and Cherie Currie, the front-woman [5]. All-female rock groups changed the masculine, male-dominated, popular rock n’ roll industry from being only made up of men, to being made up of women who were capable instrumentalists, who could be feminine, socially accepted and popular as well [6]. While Joan Jett would later move onto a solo career after the band’s break up in the late 70’s, The Runaways set the bar as the first all-female rock band, paving the way for female instrumentalists and other all-female bands to be acknowledged and heard by people everywhere.

Joan Jett’s song “Bad Reputation”

Female rock singer Joan Jett’s song “Bad Reputation” speaks to the entrance of women into the male-dominated genre of rock and roll, during a shifting culture towards rebellion and anti-establishment in the 1970’s and 1980’s. “Bad Reputation” shares Jett’s non-compliance with pleasing others, singing “A girl can do what she wants to do / And that’s what I’m gonna do”. Jett continues by singing “And I don’t really care if you think I’m strange / I ain’t gonna change”, cementing the idea that she, nor will other women, change themselves or misrepresent themselves to adhere to societal standards or to please someone else. Jett is a guitarist, singer and a co-writer of the song, a multi-faceted musician and performer, which was unusual within the rock and roll era where men dominated the charts and rarely featured women or songs promoting empowering messages towards women. Joan Jett’s song “Bad Reputation” characterizes the impact and messages that women in the rock and roll era were sending, that they didn’t care what people thought of them and they weren’t going to change for anyone.


[1] Malone, Bill C., and David Stricklin, “The 1960s and 1970s: Rock, Gospel, Soul,” In Southern Music/American Music, (University Press of Kentucky, 1979) 128.

[2] Malone, Bill C., and David Stricklin, 109.

[3] Malone, Bill C., and David Stricklin, 110.

[4] Brooks, Daphne A, “Tina Turner: the making of a rock’n’roll revolutionary,” The New York Times, March 22, 2018.

[5] Webster, Andy, “Cherry Bombshells” The New York Times, October 4, 2013.

[6] Rachel Henry Currans-Sheehan, “From Madonna to Lilith and Back Again: Women, Feminists, and Pop Music in the United States.” In You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby: Women, Politics, and Popular Culture, (University Press of Kentucky, 2009), 55.