The Roots of Rock 'n' Roll
Rock and Roll Musician Brochure Project
Rock and Roll Musician Brochure Rubric
Click on a name to view their biography

The Million Dollar Quartet

Jerry Lee Lewis
Buddy Holly
Bill Haley and his Comets
Elvis Presley
Ritchie Valens
The Big Bopper
Little Richard
Carl Perkins
Chuck Berry
Alan Freed
Dick Clark

The Million Dollar Quartet The Million dollar quartet on Youtube. The quartet was made up of four of the most important performers in early Rock 'n' Roll. Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presly and Carl Perkins all recorded for Sun Records. Sun, a small recording company in Memphis, Tennessee, was established to give young unknown performers an opportunity to make recordings. Most of their artists would have been turned away from the large, more established recording companies. top of page


Jerry Lee Lewis See Jerry Lee Lewis on Youtube. Lewis was born in Ferriday, Louisiana on September 29, 1935. He taught himself to play the piano and was influenced by American popular, Country and Blues. In late 1956 Lewis heard the music being recorded at Sun and drove with his father to Memphis, Tennessee, home of Sun Records. He was quickly signed to a contract and in 1957 recorded the hits "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire." At the age of 26 and married twice before, Lewis wed Myra Brown in 1958. While on tour in London, it was discovered that Myra Brown was Jerry Lee's 13-year-old second cousin. When they returned, Lewis' career was all but over. Between bad press, criminal investigation and DJs refusing to play his music, Lewis went back to playing in clubs. Jerry Lee Lewis' life has been plagued with tragedy as well as drug and alcohol abuse, but he has overcome his addictions and still performs today. top of page


Buddy Holly.See Buddy Holly on Youtube Buddy Holly was born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas on September 7th, 1936. He learned to play the fiddle, piano and guitar as a child and formed a band that played Country and Bluegrass in local clubs and on the radio. Buddy and his friends Bob Montgomery and Larry Welborn begin to play "Rock-a-billy" (a mix of Rock and Roll and Country). During this time they opened for Bill Haley and the Comets and Elvis Presley when they performed in Lubbock. A talent scout heard them and in 1956 they were signed to Deca Records and took the name Buddy Holly and the Crickets. They recorded with Norman Petty. Between 1957 and 1958 Buddy Holly had 7 songs in the top 40.

In 1958 Holly split form the Crickets and went to New York and Married Maria Elena Santiago. Holly's breakup with Norman Petty caused him a great deal of financial difficulty and he agreed to perform on the Winter Dance Party - a bus tour of the Midwest. After a show in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a flight to Moorhead, Minnesota. Other performers on the plane were The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. Shortly after take-off the plane crashed in a corn field killing all on board. Buddy Holly was 22 years old. In the two years as a Rock artist, Holly influenced the history of Rock and Roll like no one else. Some of his hits include "That'll be the Day" and "Peggy Sue." top of page


Bill Haley and his Comets See Bill Haley and his Comets on Youtube This group was founded in 1952 and was one the first Rock'n'Roll bands. In 1953 they recorded "Crazy Man Crazy" which was the first Rock'n'Roll song to hit the charts. In April of 1954 they recorded "Rock around the Clock" which, after being the theme song for the movie"Blackboard Jungle", was at the top of the Billboard charts for eight weeks. Haley and his Comets also recorded "Shake, Rattle and Roll"which was the first Rock'n'Roll song to earn a gold record. Bill Haley, known as the "Father of Rock'n'Roll", was surpassed by a younger, good looking Elvis Presley in 1956. The group stayed together until Haley's death in 1981. top of page


Elvis Aaron Presley. See Elvis on Youtube. Born January 8, 1935, Elvis Presley had a very strong Gospel background. He began his career as one of the first performers of "Rock-a-billy" (a fusion of Gospel and Rhythm and Blues) in 1952. He began recording in the Rock and Roll genre with "Jailhouse Rock" and became the model for Rock and Roll everywhere. His combination of Black and White sounds as well as his uninhibited television and stage performances made him a very controversial figure. In the 1960's he made most of his 31 films which were poorly reviewed and financially successful. His wide range of talent made is possible for him to be inducted into 4 different music halls of fame. Health problems and prescription drug addition led to his death at age 42. top of page


Ritchie Valens. See Ritchie Valens on YouTube Although his career only lasted eight months, Ritchie Valens was known as a pioneer of Rock and Roll music as well as a forefather of Chicano rock. Born Richard Valenzuela on May 13, 1941, he was of Mexican decent. He was interested in making music of his own by the age of five and learned to play the guitar, trumpet and drums. His first group was called the Silhouettes where he joined as the guitarist and eventually took over as singer. His debut performance with this group was in October of 1957.In 1958 he was heard by Bob Keane, President of Del-Fi Records. He later recorded at Gold Star studios in Hollywood. His two most famous songs were 'Donna" and "La Bamba". In early 1959 Valens was traveling with a tour called "The Winter Dance Party" along with Buddy Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Johnson. Holly chartered a plane for his band, but some two traded their seats to the star performers. The plane crashed and that day became known as "The day the music died." top of page


J.P. "the Big Bopper" Johnson. See The Big Bopper on YouTube Born Jiles Perri Johnson, Jr. known to his friends as J.P.and to his fans as "The Big Bopper", he began his career as a Disc Jockey on KTRM (now KZZB)and quit college in 1949 to work there full time. He wrote songs for other performers namely "White Lightening" for George Jones. He began to record songs for Mercury Starday Records and there recorded "Chantilly Lace " that went to number 6 on the charts and spent 22 weeks in the top 40. He took some time off from KTRM to go on tour with the "Winter Dance Party" in 1959 along with Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and Dion and the Belmonts. On February 2, 1959, Holly chartered a plane to take Tommy Allsup, Waylon Jennings and himself to Fargo North Dakota. Jennings gave up his seat to Johnson because Johnson had the flu, and Ritchie Valens requested Allsup's seat and they did a coin toss. Valens won the seat. Shortly after take-off, the plane crashed killing Buddy Holly (age 22), Ritchie Valens (age 17), The Big Bopper (age 28) and the 21 year-old pilot. This became known as the "day the music died." top of page


Little Richard.See Little Richard on Youtube Born Richard Wayne Penniman on Dec. 5,1932, he was the third of twelve children in a very strict religious family. He played the piano and sang for his church as a child. As a teenager Little Richard left home and performed with a medicine show and then in nightclubs and performed in a minstrel show in 1949. He recorded Rhythm and Blues in the early 1950's. His first big hit, "Tutti Frutti", was recorded in 1955. His energetic performance and reputation for being outrageous helped set the standard for the very young genre of Rock and Roll. Other hits include, "Long Tall Sally," "Lucille," and "Good Golly Miss Molly". In 1957 Little Richard left the music industry because of a religious experience and became an ordained minister. He returned to music in the 1960's with acts in Las Vegas, concert tours in England, with a little known group called "The Beatles", and film appearances. Little Richard was an inspiration for many Rock and Roll musicians who followed him including James Brown, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis. He was one of the original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of of page


Carl Perkins. See Carl Perkins on Youtube. Carl Perkins was born near Tiptonville, Tennessee in 1932. Put to work at the age of six in the cotton fields of Tennessee, a field hand taught him to play the guitar that his father made for him out of a cigar box, a broom handle and some wire. At the age of 10 he won a talent contest and then formed a group with his brothers Jay and Clayton. The Perkins brothers played at dances and at the local honky tonk named the "El Rancho Club". After hearing Elvis Presley's recording of, "Blue Moon of Kentucky," Perkins and his group went to Memphis to audition for Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records. In 1956 his recording of , "Blue Suede Shoes," sent him to the top of the charts. He was the first white performer to cross over to the Rhythm and Blues Charts. Perkins and Elvis were both at the top of the charts in 1956 with Perkins' ,"Blue Suede Shoes," and Elvis', "Heartbreak Hotel." Tragedy struck when the group was on its way to perform on the Perry Como Show. The driver fell asleep and they ran into a truck and landed in water. The driver was killed and Perkins and his brother Jay were both seriously injured. Jay never fully recovered and died of a brain tumor in 1958. Perkins began drinking and hit a low point in the 1960's. He came back to record some minor hits and learned that George Harrison, of the Beatles, taught himself to play guitar by listening to Perkins' recordings. The Beatles recorded 5 songs by Carl Perkins. Through the years Perkins played with artists such as Patsy Kline and Johnny Cash. A survivor of throat cancer, he suffered a series of strokes and died in of page


Chuck Berry. See Chuck Berry on Youtube. Born on October 18, 1926, Charles Edward Anderson Berry was one of six children in a middle class family in St. Louis, Missouri. His father was a contractor and his mother a teacher/principal.He was able to pursue his interest in music as a child and made his first appearance while a student at Sumner High School in St. Louis. Before he could graduate form high school Berry, along with two of his friends, was arrested for armed robbery. He was in a juvenile detention center until he was 21 years old. After his release form prison he married Thelmetta (Toddy) Suggs. He worked briefly as a factory worker and janitor and began moonlighting as a guitarist playing country (then known as "hillbilly") music at a club called The Cosmopolitan. He was influenced by performers such as Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters and Country as well as Rhythm and Blues. On a trip to Chicago, Berry met Muddy Waters and asked him where he could get a recording contract. Waters sent him to Leonard Chess, founder of Chess records, where he recorded "Maybeline." Chess paid Alan Freed to get air time for "Maybeline" and Freed played it for two straight hours on his radio show. The song hit the charts as #1 on the R& B and sold over a million copys. Berry discovered that Freed's name was on the copyright for the song and that he was getting some of the royalties as well.

Berry was successful with hits such as "Roll Over Beethoven", and, "Johnny B. Goode". He had ten hit songs between 1956 and 1959. He took the money he earned and bought property in MO to build his own club named "Club Bandstand.On a trip to Arizona he met a young girl and hired her to be a hat check girl in his club.She was fired after two weeks and was arrested days later for prostitution. Berry was arrested for violation of the Mann act - transporting a woman over state lines for immoral purposes He was convicted and sent to jail. Three years later the was a retrial, but the conviction stood. While he was in prison, his songs were recorded by other groups like the Beach Boys. Berry made a comeback with tours in the Untied States and Europe after his release from Prison. Today he performs one day a month at the age of 83. top of page


Alan Freed. Alan Freed on the Alan Freed Show. Born Albert James Freed on December 15, 1921 near Johnstown PA, he is credited with giving Rock'n'Roll its name. Freed started his own band in high school named the "Sultans of Swing" and went on in 1942 to become a radio broadcaster first in New Castle PA and moved to Ohio in 1944. While in Akron, Ohio, Freed (known as "Moondog" to his listeners) had a dance called the "Moondog Coronation Ball" at which 20,000 fans crashed the gates of the 10,000 capacity hall causing the dance to be canceled. This was considered to be the first "rock" concert. This also marked the point at which Freed began to refer to Rhythm and Blues as Rock and Roll, and increased his listeners to include both black and white audiences. In 1954 Freed was hired by WINS in New York. He hosted a landmark dance there and referred to the Black musicians as rock 'n' roll artists. Within a month the trade papers were using the term rock'n'roll. He emceed legendary concerts and had his own TV show until a black performer danced with a white girl on camera and the show was canceled. In November of 1959 the payola scandals surfaced and Freed claimed that the money he received form record companies were consultant fees not payoffs to play their records on the air. He was indicted plead guilty to the payola charges in1962. He returned to radio but was forbidden by his station to promote rock'n'roll, Freed left New York and ended up in Miami, Florida. After realizing that his dream of returning to New York was not going to happen, he began drinking. He moved to Palm Springs, California and died there of bleeding esophageal ulcers and cirrhosis of the liver. Some say he died of a broken of page


Dick Clark. See an interview with Dick Clark. Born on November 30, 1929 Richard Wagstaff Clark began working in the mailroom of a radio station just after high school.By summer's end he had gone from mailroom to substitute weatherman to station breaks. He went to Syracuse University and majored in advertising and radio. After graduation, Clark worked for two radio stations before moving to Philadelphia to a radio and television station. There he began hosting a show called "Bandstand" where teenagers came to the studio and danced to records that Clark would play. In August, 1957 "Bandstand" went national and became"American Bandstand." "American Bandstand" was the first national exposure for Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Chubby Checkers as well as many others. Having your record played on the show guaranteed selling thousands of records the following week. Clark expanded his interests and got involved in the publishing and recording areas of the music industry. In 1959, a senate subcommittee was appointed to look into payola scandals (paying a person to play your record) It seemed that the recordings that Clark were associated with got more play time on his show than other recordings. Clark and Alan Freed were of particular interest to the committee. Clark agreed to withdraw from his interests in the recording industry and stayed in television. Unlike Freed, Clark overcame the scandal of payola and"American Bandstand" was on the air until 1989. Clark produced many TV specials, game shows and movies during his career including the National Music Awards and "$10,000 Pyramid" and "TV's Practical Jokes and Bloopers". He is best known today for his new years eve broadcasts. Dick Clark was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. American Bandstand. top of page