The Most Influential Musician You’ve Never Heard Of

For a guy who was a major pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll and rap, not to mention the music video, Louis Jordan is criminally underappreciated.

During the 1940s and early 50s, the saxophone-playing singer and bandleader had a whopping 54 hits (18 of them reached #1) in a style called jump 'n' jive. A high-spirited amalgam of jazz and blues, it was one of the key influences on rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, Jordan’s 1949 hit “Saturday Night Fish Fry” is often acknowledged as one the first rock records. Sadly, an online link to the original doesn’t seem to be available. But here’s an alternate version from the ‘50s that’s still pretty great. Listen for a chorus that obviously had a huge influence on Chuck Berry:

While rap can be traced to everything from West-African griots (news singers) to seminal recordings like 1970’s debut by The Last Poets, you could make a strong case that it was Louis Jordan & The Tympany Five who made the first rap record with the 1946 hit “Beware.” The cadence, the rhyming, the attitude, the hipster slang. Even the hand motions. It’s all there:

In the 1940s, many artists promoted their singles with “soundies.” Short three-minute films, these were early versions of the music videos we know today. While there wasn’t a VH-1 or CMT back then, the clips were shown on Panorams, coin-operated video jukeboxes found in nightclubs, bars and amusement parks. Once again, Louis Jordan was at the forefront of the trend. Here’s a soundie of his 1945 hit “Caldonia”:

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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