Who Invented Rock and Roll?

Exactly when the history of rock and roll began is unclear. The genre itself evolved from the blues, country and other musical styles of the 1930s and 40s. It was disc jock Alan Freed who popularized the phrase in the 1950s.

The 1950s

It’s not easy to determine what the first rock and roll song actually was but Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cars is often mentioned as a top candidate. However it was Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock (1955) that topped the charts.

With its popularity, rock and roll became widespread. This was followed by a string of hits as new artists emerged in the genre.

Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man became a hit in 1955. Little Richard, meanwhile, became one of the first major stars in the history of rock and roll. Among his biggest hits were Long Tall Sally in 1956 and Good Golly Miss Molly (1958).

Chuck Berry also broke through with Maybellene in 1955 and also came out with Johnny B Goodie (1958). The biggest rock and roll star was Elvis Presley whose first hit was That’s All Right in 1954.


Fro a time rock and roll was the best selling genre in the US. However it declined in the late 1950s and 1960s. There were several factors that led to this. Among them were the deaths of Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly. Elvis Presley left to join the Army.

Little Richard became a preacher and other genres became popular. However this period in the history of rock and roll did not actually mean the genre was dead. The music simply assumed other forms.


Emergence of Rock Music

While most of the 1960s music charts were dominated by the Beatles, rock and roll was changing. Around this time, the roll was dropped and the music came to be known as just rock.

By the late 1960s, rock music would emerge and produce new stars and sub genres. Folk rock was popularized by Bob Dylan with songs like Blowing in the Wind and Mr. Tambourine Man. Other popular folk artists were Neil Young, Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell.

This period in the history of rock and roll is often referred to as the period of classic rock. Rock took on different forms and several pioneering artists came out. Psychedelic rock was popularized by Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and the Byrds. In Britain, psychedelic rock was being fused with progressive rock, with Pink Floyd as its main exponent.

1970s to the 1990s

This decade saw hard rock become more popular. Among the biggest bands of the era were Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and AC DC. Aerosmith, Judas Priest and Alice Cooper also produced several hits.

The 1980s saw the emergence of glam rock (also called hair metal). Popular bands included Guns n Roses, Poison, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue. The 1990s witnessed the birth of grunge led by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

The history of rock and roll has come a long way. Today, rock music remains one of the most popular genres in the world.

Additional Reading on Rock’N’Roll Music

  • Top Ten Rock Songs