It was on a September evening when my twin sister Sheryl and I first crossed paths with stars from our favorite decade of popular music: the 1950s. We went to see a performance by members of Danny and the Juniors (featuring original member Joe Terranova as the lead) at our local Labor Day festival. Danny and the Juniors appeared on American Bandstand and were best known for "At the Hop" (1957), "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay" (1958) and "Twistin' U.S.A." (1960), all anthems of the era. They were named Best New Group of 1957 and "At the Hop" quickly became an international sensation, reaching #1 on the pop, country and R&B charts. According to a listing at Billboard Magazine, "At the Hop" is ranked the 23rd all-time, best-selling record.
Enamored with 1950s rock and roll, Sheryl and I were inseparable from our Dick Clark Time Life Collection and library of biopics. We took guitar lessons locally at Studio E for the sole purpose of learning our favorite hits and enjoyed raising our voices in song. We watched the TV series American Dreams with the same excitement as if we were really tuning into American Bandstand. But for all of our rocking and rolling, we'd never had the opportunity to see any of the artists in concert. The moment had arrived. We couldn't believe the famous quartet from Philly was coming to our small town in Ohio. We were going to see these guys in person!
Sheryl and I went to the concert with our parents with whom we've always been musically simpatico. Although our friends and classmates respected our preferred playlists, they weren't exactly interested in going to a concert to hear artists perform original songs from several decades ago. But this never hindered our passion. Indifference and disinterest only strengthened our resolve to be successful stewards as we began to share this music with others in our generation and beyond.
Dad parked the car and we made our way past the stage to the lawn area seating. We found a good spot: house left, stage right. The tour caravan was parked behind the stage. The anticipation was building. And at long last, the group emerged with "At the Hop!" Energized and inspired by their performance of both familiar and unfamiliar tunes, we were starstruck. Photos weren't permitted, so all I have are memories and the music, but that's enough!
When it was announced that that they were signing merch after the show, we tried to push each other into taking up the task, but it was clear we were far too shy for an encounter with the famous rock 'n' rollers. So, what did we do? We sent Dad to do our bidding, of course! And much to our excitement, he returned awhile later with a Greatest Hits CD and an album insert signed by all of the members. Ready to devour the material, it took us one day to learn the songs. I listen to this disc regularly as a reminder of that magical night!
We didn't realize it then, but this experience was a catalyst that would eventually set into motion our first act as music heritage preservationists. And when that opportunity arrived, we embraced it! Splashing some fresh paint onto the blank canvas of an intermission segment for a school drama club performance, Sheryl and I recruited friends, gathered costumes and choreographed the dancing to present an interpretation of Danny and the Juniors on American Bandstand. It was an unforgettable thrill to see the audience clapping and smiling as our friends danced and sang to the music. In true rock and roll fashion, our intermezzo stole the show, outshining the classic drama. My sister and I didn't perform as dancers on the show. We were on stage as members of the group!
Just short of a time machine, I was transported to the era where I reveled in the music and stardom of Danny and the Juniors. I was too young to think of the professional implications of our little retro production, but I knew it represented something special. I loved the feeling, the high, that it afforded my efforts. Since this music had brought so much joy to my life, I wanted to give life to the music in return. We had successfully presented '50s rock and roll to an audience majority who may not have otherwise given it a listen, and we rekindled feelings of nostalgia for others along the way. Suddenly, 1958 didn't seem so far away.
Since our "At the Hop" debut, Sheryl and I have journeyed on in our pursuit of music heritage preservation as students, apprentices and now as emerging professionals. While Sheryl's studies and professional projects focused on mid-century American rock and roll landmarks, I went to graduate school in London, took apprenticeships in opera and pursued a specialization in the life and music of W.A. Mozart. It was in September 2015 that I joined my sister in planning our first professional rock and roll collaboration. It was like a homecoming.
In February 2016, we traveled to Clear Lake, Iowa for The Surf Speaks: Voices of a Living History, an original initiative born out of our lifelong affinity for the genre. The Surf Speaks was designed as a crowd-sourcing approach to document the 2016 "February Family," the fans and stalwart guardians of the historic Surf Ballroom's Winter Dance Party legacy. With The Crickets founding member and drummer Jerry Allison joining our "Class of 2016" project photo, and meeting other members of rock and roll royalty at the Surf Ballroom, I realized that while I'll probably always be starstruck, I'll never again pass on an opportunity to meet and engage with these artists. The kiddo who was once too nervous to meet rock and roll stars is now working with them!
There have been many wonderful outcomes from The Surf Speaks project, including our upcoming feature in the exhibit for Buddy Holly's 80th birthday at the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association Museum in October. But the outcome most noteworthy for its connection to our "At the Hop" beginnings is our contribution to the upcoming book Bandstand Diaries: The Philadelphia Years 1956 to 1963. Bandstand Diaries is the first book to be published about the lives (then and now) of the show's regular dancers who became icons and household names. With the book being released in November (our birthday month!), and both the Danny and the Juniors concert and the founding of The Surf Speaks project occurring in September, well, there's something quite wonderful about autumn!
From Bandstand fans to Bandstand Diaries, Sheryl and I have come a long way since our school drama club performance! I currently work as an independent professional and Sheryl joined the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association as its Interim Museum Director this year. We both feel very honored to have the opportunity to do our part to help sustain this rich musical heritage.
"Rock and Roll is Here to Stay!"
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