HUNTER HANCOCK AND DEWEY PHILLIPS BRING R&B TO THE AIRWAVES
How did Dewey Phillips and Hunter Hancock help bring Rhythm and Blues music to mixed race audiences?
Throughout much of the 20th century, African Americans engaged in the "Great Migration" moved from the rural South to points north, often urban centers. Their presence in cities from Memphis to Chicago and New York would have a profound impact on American culture in general, and on radio programming in particular.
African-American audiences were eager to hear music performed by African-American artists, particularly the new Rhythm and Blues sounds that had begun to emerge from earlier Blues and Jazz styles. In 1949, WDIA in Memphis hired a team of African-American disc jockeys and began gearing programming entirely toward African-American audiences, with R&B and Blues at its heart. In some cases, it was white disc jockeys who championed this music, playing it on radio stations that would bring together black and white audiences.
This lesson will focus on two of those DJs: Memphis’s Dewey Phillips, whose popular show "Red Hot and Blue" frequently featured music by African-American artists, and Los Angeles’s Hunter Hancock, widely regarded as the first DJ in the western part of the country to regularly play R&B on the air. Reaching both black and white audiences, these pioneering DJs played an integral role in bringing African-American music into the mainstream, a process that lay at the heart of the soon-to-come Rock and Roll revolution.
Video pages: Jerry Lee Lewis - Radio Interview - The Dewey Phillips Show (1957) | Roy Brown - Good Rockin' Tonight (1947) | Hunter Hancock - Huntin' with Hunter | Dewey Phillips - Red, Hot and Blue (1952) | Ruth Brown - Teardrops From My Eyes (1950)
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
1. Distribute Handout 1: Map of the United States, and display the map on the board. Ask if students can identify why some states are shaded in blue and others in red. (Note to instructor: This is a map reflecting the divisions of the Civil War era: the states in dark red seceded and became part of the Confederacy before April 15, 1861, and those in light red seceded and joined the Confederacy after that date; those in blue remained part of the Union; those in yellow were Union states that allowed slavery; and those in grey were territories that had not yet become states.)
2. Using a classroom atlas or online research, ask students to label the following cities: Los Angeles, California; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; St. Louis, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C. Discuss as a class:
3. Ask students to describe life for African Americans in the American South after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the end of the Civil War in 1865. Ask them to discuss the institutions of sharecropping and the culture of Jim Crow, in particular. If students are not firmly grounded in this material, guide them through these topics, offering explanation where needed.
4. Distribute Handout 2: African-American Population of Select Cities and display on the board. Make sure students understand that the table shows African Americans as a percentage of the overall population in 1920 and 1960. Discuss as a class:
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
Writing 3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
Writing 8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
Speaking and Listening 4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Speaking and Listening 5: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
Theme 8: Science, Technology, and Society
Core Music Standard: Responding
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.