Rock and roll (Rock ‘n’ roll) arose in the United States in the late 1940’s after World War II, from a combination of the rhythms of African American blues, country and gospel music. Though elements of rock and roll can be heard in Canadian country records of the 1930’s, 1940’s, and in American blues records from the 1920’s, rock and roll did not acquire its name until the 1950’s. “Rock”‘ or its forerunners electric blues (Chicago blues) and rhythm and blues (Jump blues) was first heard in the late 1940’s by Canadians who were living close enough to the American border to tune into American radio station broadcasts.
In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed began playing rhythm and blues music for a multi-racial audience, and is credited with first using the phrase “rock and roll” to describe the musical sound of the Doo-wop vocal groups and the rockabilly singers who emerged in the 1950’s. The Four Lads, from Toronto, were one of the first groups to capitalize on this sound and become a prominent act in the Canadian rhythm and blues scene, producing their first hit in 1952 called “Mocking Bird”. Their most famous hit was “Moments to Remember”, which first reached the Billboard magazine charts on September 3, 1955. Emerging in the mid-1950’s, on near equal-footing to American popular music, Canadian popular music enjoyed considerable success at home and abroad.
By 1954 the name “rock and roll” had become the common name of the popular music of the day. Rhythm and blues (R&B coined in 1949) was too broad a term, because R&B was a category that included most forms of race music, which generally had adult-based lyrics. The Crew-Cuts, The Diamonds and The Four Lads would emerge from this new marketing of rhythm and blues to appeal to a white audience leaving an indelible mark on the Doo-wop days. Often Canadian records of this period were simply covers of pop hits, and rhythm and blues oldies. 1958 saw Canada produced its first rock and roll teen idol Paul Anka, who went to New York City where he auditioned for ABC with the song, Diana. This song brought Anka instant stardom and he became the first Canadian to have a number one on the US Billboard charts in the rock and roll era. “Diana” is one of the best selling 45s in music history. He followed up with four songs that made it into the Top 20 in 1958, making him one of the biggest teen idols of the
Most Canadians with successful recording careers in the 1950’s had moved to the US, where the population level and media exposure would eclipse that of Canada. Ronnie Hawkins, an Arkansas born rockabilly singer, moved to Canada in 1958, becoming a prominent figure in Canadian blues and rock devoting his life to popularizing Canadian musicians. He formed a backing band called The Hawks, which produced some of the earliest Canadian rock stars. Among them were the members of “The Band”, who began touring with Bob Dylan in 1966, and then struck out on their own in 1968.