IDEMA: Rock ‘n’ roll history illuminates current politics

In many discussions I have had with people in relation to my last column, which dealt with the psychology of hate, many have said to me, "It is a mystery why so many people seem to hate the president."
Aug 20, 2014


There is no single answer to explain such reactions to our first black president, but the history of rock ‘n’ roll offers some insight.

Arguably, the first rock ‘n’ roll record was "Sh-Boom" by the Chords, a black group, released in 1954. I was 7 at the time, and the only version I remember was the cover by the Crew Cuts, a white group, which outsold the original.

Why? Because, in the early ‘50s, radio stations were basically divided into white pop stations and black rhythm and blues stations, which played what was originally called "race records." This was a clear case of not-so-subtle racism. White pop stations at that time did not play rhythm and blues, which soon evolved into "rock ‘n’ roll," a sexual euphemism in R&B songs.

After World War II, popular music was divided into three distinct markets: pop, country and R&B. The dominant white market had such consistent hit-makers as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole (an acceptable black artist for air play), Perry Como, Patti Page, Jo Stafford, etc. The music consisted of sweet ballads with novelty records sprinkled in. American teenagers were hardly excited by such music.

R&B was the most dynamic field, and grew in popularity through such small labels as Atlantic, Chess and Specialty, which catered to the black record buyers ignored by the major companies such as RCA, Columbia, Decca, Capitol and Mercury. Rhythm and blues was beat-heavy, sexy, irreverent and down to earth.

The message at this time to black recording artists by the major record labels and the white radio stations was "stay in your place, you are not welcome here." 

What changed things was the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll, which happened due to the discovery and acceptance of R&B by young white record buyers like me.

Here, once again, money talked. We wanted Little Richard singing "Long Tall Sally," not Pat Boone, who covered many of Little Richard's songs. 

In the 1950s, more and more radio stations played black music, including WJW in Cleveland, where in 1952 a white DJ named Alan Freed promoted R&B, along with white artists, and began to promote integrated concerts. In fact, I attended one of these in 1957 in Grand Rapids at the Civic Auditorium, called "The Big Beat," where I saw together Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, The Chantels (the best black girl group of this era), Larry Williams and many more —all for the price of $2.

My father took me and people kept on asking him where the bathrooms were, because he was the only older person there and they thought he was an employee.

The racism of white radio stations and the major record companies cost black artists much money. The Spaniels' "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" and the Moonglows' "Sincerely" never made the pop charts, no doubt because of the cover versions put out by the McGuire Sisters. Yet today, the originals are considered classics — not the white covers, which are thankfully forgotten.

This tide of prejudice turned in 1955 when Alan Freed announced he would no longer play cover versions of black recordings. Early in the year, both the Penguins' "Earth Angel" and Johnny Ace's "Pledging My Love" outsold their white covers by the Crew Cuts and Teresa Brewer. The way was opened for Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and many others to be heard on what had been exclusively sedate white pop stations.

Elvis Presley then blew the lid off of white pop music in 1955 and especially 1956 by combining R&B, country, white pop (he loved Dean Martin) and gospel. Presley and Ray Charles both brought into popular music their gospel roots. In fact, the only Grammy that Elvis ever won was for his gospel records — which are wonderful.

By the way, Elvis always acknowledged his debt to black artists and the black gospel tradition. To my knowledge, he never said a racist word about black people.

Now, how does this bit of history illuminate our politics? I am convinced that part of the anger — and yes, even hatred — toward our president comes from pushback at a black man treading on territory which has traditionally been a white man's preserve: the White House. If we nominate a woman to run for president in 2016, there will be similar pushback, although I think race stirs up more anger and hatred than gender. 

White privilege is difficult to give up for many people. Part of the comments made about the brown children coming into our country in order to escape drug lords, murder and poverty is that "Obama simply wants more voters for the Democrats." In other words, these brown children should not be here! 

The threat of white people becoming the minority in America and far less dominant in our politics makes many of these people foam at the mouth. Yet, under Obama, the stock market has almost tripled. Mitt, are you better off today than in 2008?

The God of the Bible is a liberating God, who through history severs the chains of oppression and prejudice. Now that a black man has occupied the White House, there is no turning back, no return to the presidency being a white man's privilege only. 

And, ironically, just as it was the youth of America who changed the face of music in the 1950s, so too it was the youth of America who literally changed the face of our politics when Barack Obama was elected president.

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist



This is the stupidest thing I have ever read. Get over it, just because you dislike a person does not automatically determine you are a racist if the person happens to be of a different race. I love Jamesetta Hawkins (Etta James) and BB King and many more artists of colors, establishing I am not a racist by this theory, but I think the current president is an idiot. Wow are you confused now how to label me? In reality anyone calling anyone a racist is an idiot. No one knows what another person actually believes and anyone on the receiving end of label should just blow it off, an idiot just labeled you. Oh my! So what.


What a great piece, Rev. Idema! As one who greatly appreciates the musical talents of early black R&B and Doo-Wop bands, as well as the progression to the election and re-election of our first black president, who I believe to be a talented man as well, I can agree with many of your highlighted correlations.

I have come to believe that there will always be some degree of hatred toward and suspicion of the "other" - and especially so when the "other" is more talented, successful, intelligent, or powerful than the one feeling the hate, and who believes their dominance to be threatened.

History teaches us that hate has many manifestations, is present in all of us, and is very difficult, if not impossible, to completely eradicate. The mission must be to be mindful of the hate within each of us, and to rid ourselves of as much of it as we can.


Once again he's missed the boat; people in general do not hate Mr. Obama however they strongly disagree with his practices and policies regarding the administration a country he did not grow up in, he didn’t step foot in this country until grants and scholarship were given to him likely as a citizen of Indonesia. He didn’t go to summer camp, he wasn’t in little league or go to bonfires and school dances or any of the things that we all know as basic Americana and this is reflected in his governance (when he does) over domestic and foreign policy that seems to invite a turn toward socialism like GW but at a much faster pace to government controlling everything through the IRS or any other local government that can ordinance your freedom away with the stroke of a pen and nobody gets a vote.
The pretend reverend is gravely mistaken to vomit up a past to scratch some carnal itch a real man of God would dust off as a new creation. Anger, hate call it what you want is born of fear and comes from nowhere else, yes people are angry and hate what the president does because they are afraid of what he will do tomorrow when the next crisis comes and Putin slaps up the empty suit that is the current American president once more…you both miss this fundamental fact and prattle on about black musicians who in fact are idolized today for their talent and struggle against an industry that could not keep them down. You both seem to think only black people have ever suffered from racists but like so many blacks that believe the victory is ours and the battle is the Lords we thank God and move on knowing Man can do anything to us but take away Salvation, but you both seem to believe the “important stuff” happens here on earth.

Tri-cities realist

I don't hate Obama, just his ideology. And actually I don't hate that either, I just strongly disagree with it. So am I a racist? I would (and have) vote for a conservative black (or any other race) president. Am I still a racist? I generally agree with conservative black politicians and judges, am I still a racist? The issue for me (and I would guess the vast majority who disagree with Obama) is not the color of his skin. I have heeded Dr. King's message of looking at character and not skin color. Does that make me racist? The reality is that those who defend the president ad nauseam, have no retort when we disagree with his policies, so they play the race card, because it has been effective in the past. So who are the real racists?


You and I have debated Obama's policies and ideology many times. Of course, I can't possibly know how you feel deeply and truly about the fact that Obama is a black man - or any other black person, but I have never sensed you are a racist. You are right in stating that it is wrong to think that a person should automatically be labeled a racist because he/she disagrees with a person's ideology, beliefs, or policies who happens to have a different skin color than they do. But pointing out that, for many people, their racism drives their criticism of Obama is not playing the race card - claiming this is but another attempt to manipulate and divert from the problem.

What this is about, for me, is the sustained level of raw hatred and disrespect for the man, beginning during the 2008 campaign, and unrelenting throughout his presidency, regardless of his actions, policies, or ideology. The lies, the accusations in an attempt to make him the"other" - birther, Kenyan, Muslim baloney, and then the manipulation of Obama's race through Republican congressional intransigence, knowing this will resonate with it's racist base - is unprecedented in my lifetime.

Obama is not perfect by any means. I, myself, never saw him as a messiah. None of us are, of course. But as the most powerful man in the world, and half-black, he has become the target of vast amounts of racist hate. His story is only one chapter in the journey of people of color in this country.

Sadly, TCR, not all people are as even-handed, objective, and honest as you.

Tri-cities realist

Thank you for your honesty Lanny, and the compliments (I hope you weren't being sarcastic, and I didn't sense it).

"But pointing out that, for many people, their racism drives their criticism of Obama is not playing the race card - claiming this is but another attempt to manipulate and divert from the problem." You also said (I'm paraphrasing) you didn't know whether racism drives my criticism, but that you didn't sense that I'm a racist. And that is why I question all of the claims of racism against Obama. I haven't seen the racism against Obama (save for the KKK), so how is it that there are all these claims of racism, when the vast majority of criticism is against his policies, not his skin color? If we dont know what drives the criticism, how can we label them racists? Can you further explain what you mean by "manipulation of Obama's race through Republican congressional intransigence"? Honestly I don't understand to what you are referring.

And I don't recall Clinton or Bush getting a pass from the other side, and clearly that wasn't driven by racism. So isn't it more likely that Obama's criticism is driven by ideology and not racism?

And don't forget this is politics... Poli meaning many, and tic meaning blood sucking critters ;-)


Gee - I know it's time to throw in the towel when one interprets even my sincere compliments with suspicion and a cautious, tenuous hope that they are not actual vehicles of snark and sarcasm!!

It's possible people can be racist-lite. I suppose we all have our strains of bigotry that hounds us. To repeat from a post made in the past, I grew up in an environment of almost no discernible racism, but a strong prejudice against lazy people, and to this day, I can't shake my disdain for otherwise healthy people who are indolent.

As to Obama: Frankly, at this point, if you don't "see" or "understand" the racism towards Obama, I can't do much for you. If you didn't get all the crank forward emails filled with racial code words, lies and misinformation (I did, dozens of them - they've mostly stopped by now); hear the Rush rants (of course, he hams up the misogyny, bigotry, and racism for his listeners), and others, constantly; and have friends say to you, "I can't even stand to look at the guy", then there is nothing I can say to make you "see" it.

Of course, all presidents are raked over the coals - that goes with the territory. Not like this. This is different. Simply put, Republicans, back in January 2009, discouraged by Obama's victory, decided to adopt a strategy of obstructing and restricting Obama, right out the gate. This was especially evil, because the country was in a major downward spiral, and it desperately needed a concerted effort by all leadership to stop that spiral. Republican leadership knew that it's base contained a vocal segment of birthers, truthers, and other racists who would approve of, and even encourage, this strategy, and thus, my claim, "..manipulation of Obama's race through Republican congressional intransigence". By the way, it has done more to reveal the amoral failure and divisions within the party, than it has in stopping Obama.

But it's all out of the bag now, and no amount of debate or discussion will erase it. And yes, you are right - "All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players...."

Barry Soetoro

No throwing in the towel until you host the Beer Summit. I believe I read that in the rules somewhere. Have a wonderful day.


Ok! Let's have a theme, with appropriate t-shirts.....

And thanks - I will now - the same to you...

Tri-cities realist

You can never be too careful... Actually I debated whether or not to include the thought in parenthesis, thinking I may have missed some snark. Please accept my apology.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program:

So when the NAACP and Congressional Black Caucus opposed and obstructed Bush, were they being racist? Seems only logical. Or absurd. About as absurd as claiming that anyone who disagrees with this president is a racist.

And thankfully neither party has ever obstructed the agenda of a newly elected president from the other party... until 2009. Uh huh.

Full disclosure: there is some snark sprinkled above.


Are you referring to this "obstruction" of Bush by the CBC?

"According to Rachael Sullivan, spokesperson for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) who chairs the CBC, members of the group composed a statement of "principles" which they said President Bush should meet before authorizing any military action against Iraq.

The CBC statement, she said, makes clear the group's opposition to any military strike against Iraq "without a clearly demonstrated and imminent threat of attack on the United States." And, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said there has seen "no evidence nor intelligence that suggests that Iraq poses an imminent threat to our nation." According to Rachael Sullivan, spokesperson for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) who chairs the CBC, members of the group composed a statement of "principles" which they said President Bush should meet before authorizing any military action against Iraq.

The CBC statement, she said, makes clear the group's opposition to any military strike against Iraq "without a clearly demonstrated and imminent threat of attack on the United States." And, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said there has seen "no evidence nor intelligence that suggests that Iraq poses an imminent threat to our nation."

Looks like history shows they were prescient and absolutely correct. And by the way, a few signatures certainly didn't "obstruct" Bush on his Iraq Path to Perdition.

Allow me to frame the issue of race and Obama this way:

When facts, statistics, and undisputed historical context are presented that show previous presidents to be far guiltier of presidential transgressions - doubling the Federal debt, foreign policy blunders with long-term consequences, growing Big Government, the signing of legislature that favors Big Business over the American people, failed economic policies, failure to lower the Federal deficit, failure of policies and programs due to mismanagement and lack of oversight, lies, propaganda, and manipulations - and yet one insists that Obama is the true criminal transgressor, then that person is either abjectly stupid, or abjectly racist.

I regret to say that there is no snark here.

Tri-cities realist

When someone says they want to fundamentally transform our nation, we can expect some pushback, regardless of race. Now if he would have said that during the middle part of the last century, while referring to racial equality, it would be understandable. But as we have seen, Obama is not content with pursuing equal opportunity, but rather is focused on the outcome, regardless of whether it is constitutional.

As for the CBC, perhaps they should have focused their attention on their democratic colleagues in Congress who voted in favor of the use of force in Iraq. And I know you understood my point about relating opposition to a president as racism. So was the CBC racist by demanding the president comply with their statement of principles, or did they just have a difference of opinion?


Here is what all the fuss is about. A speech at U of Missouri, five days before the 2008 election.

"After decades of broken politics in Washington, and eight years of failed policies from George W. Bush, and 21 months of a campaign that's taken us from the rocky coast of Maine to the sunshine of California, we are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America. In five days, you can turn the page on policies that put greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street before the hard work and sacrifice of folks on Main Street. In five days, you can choose policies that invest in our middle class, and create new jobs, and grow this economy, so that everyone has a chance to succeed, not just the CEO, but the secretary and janitor, not just the factory owner, but the men and women on the factory floor. In five days, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election, that tries to pit region against region, and city against town, and Republican against Democrat, that asks -- asks us to fear at a time when we need to hope."

It isn't so disturbing transformational, is it? What's disturbingly disgusting is that Republicans, in nearly every instance, blocked Obama's vision for a stronger, more productive society.

Obama thought that with a good spirit, a desire to reach out and compromise, and, as the country was going down the tubes while in the midst of two wars, thanks to the previous Republican administration, that Republicans would do the honorable thing and work hard to steady the country, rather than use it as an opportunity to attack the president full-tilt for the next four (8) years. All negative, all the time.

Meanwhile, you are right. The Dems don't seem to march in lockstep like Republicans, where dissenters are thrown out with the bath water, "rated" by the conservative think tanks and the NRA, and eaten alive.

As to your point, I hope I was clear. I reiterate: When someone says to me that Obama is the worst president ever, because he_________(fill in the blanks), and I counter with facts, statistics, and historical context that show previous presidents doing the same thing or, in many cases, a far worse thing, and that person stills maintains that Obama is the "worst president ever" because he______(fill in the blank), that inability to view the situation objectively and fairly is either willful ignorance or willful racism.


Henry, ironically, what you have just described and illustrated are individuals in America exactly like you. People that immediately judge an individual by the color of their skin and not the content of their character. You are hell bent on categorizing music, people, food, towns(like your own), incomes, sports, countries, etc... based on race. You are unable to look at anything without the overtones of race or gender while the majority of us look at an individual's character, talent, intellect, and qualifications. You cannot look at your neighbor as a fellow American, you have to look at them as an African American, Latino American, Asian American, Native American, or Right Wing Extremist. Your labels, accusations, stereotypes, and incendiary commentary does not inspire, heal, or praise people, it only solidifies your distain hatred for any attempt to correct or make inroads to improve race & gender relations in our Country, our State, and your own community.

Please use your God given talents in writing about great Americans such as Clarence Thomas, Walt Williams, Allen West, Thomas Sowell, Charles Barlkey, Dwayne Johnson, or Hermain Cain and their contributions or your self-described psychology of hate towards our President.

However, I caution you with any criticism of these American Patriots, as there are a few disgruntle people, organizations, and columnist out there that will be quick to attack and character assassinate you in the profitable business of race baiting and political divide.


Exactly! And the funniest thing is that the Reverend apparently grew up in the mystical Island of Caucasia where the inhabitants believed that when they listened to "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" and "Sincerely" they were hearing the McGuire Sisters. Maybe even worse, these Caucasians believed that "Long Tall Sally," was made popular by Pat Boone. In New Yawk, that would have placed them in a category that I can't repeat in a family paper, even in the 50's. (Lanny - I suspect you knew who popularized the songs, even if you were a twinkle in your parent's eyes).

The racial history proposed by the Rev. ignores the economic and demographic realities of the 50's, not to mention which political party has dominated the movie and record industry for decades.

I have disdain for Obama because he has disdain for me - he is open that he doesn't represent my interests, my values, my legal sensibilities and training, or my country in foreign affairs. And he shows his disdain in an "in your face" manner. Coming from New York, and then Philly and Darwin's Waiting Room (D.C.) I recognize "In Your Face" and react accordingly.


Oh yeah - what could be better than to be laying on Jones Beach, listening to the Ink Spots on the radio, falling in love with the precision, the phrasing, the raw musicality, the harmonies - as tight and flawless as they can be, and those melodies - rapturous! Listening with your eyes closed, you could almost forget that perfection was African-American (or at least for a moment it didn't matter).....

May I ask: Who was the last president who did represent your interests, values, legal sensibilities and training?


I admired George W. Bush, particularly his bringing the nation together after the attacks of 9/11 but I opposed his faux liberal "Compassionate Conservatism and his out of control spending..

I would have to say Eisenhower. And if you know Jones Beach, you know Gilgo was the place to go for good beach time and surfing, and especially nightlife next door at the OBI (Oak Beach Inn).


I didn't know Gilgo beach, but I do now....

Growing up on a beach is one of life's sweet opportunities and treasures.

I may have mentioned this a while back (to Wing?), but a good book about Eisenhower, his strengths and foibles, is The Big Roads, Earl Swift (The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways)


Things have changed substantially since those ugly days of the 1950's and 60's

Thanks for the book tip!


Must you always take a pleasant interlude and throw a bucket of bloody chicken guts on it?

You're welcome.


Charlton Heston


Did he ever play a president?

Tri-cities realist

Better yet he actually WAS a president!


Clearly, you do not own firearms. His presidency was with the NRA.

I was being facetious to your question because I was suspicious that you might be carrying a club in your other hand with a nail in the end of it, waiting to ambush a legit response. lol (hey, profiling doesn't always work!)

However, when you're packing a impaling spear then, I guess some can take reckless chances like that.


I do know that Heston was president of the NRA for a time. Did you know that Heston was a Democrat back in the '60's, and marched with Rev Martin Luther King in 1963? Later, he switched allegiances, and supported Reagan.

A little confession: I'm not one to carry clubs, or spears, for that matter, but I am surprised how much I enjoy the fight. When I came onto this scene, I was in a recuperative state of mind, but have found that volleying with you, Vlad, and others is more liberating and "fun" than I ever thought possible in my previous career. I like being "reckless"!

Barry Soetoro

Imagine how much more fun we'd be having if we were all (redacted)-faced in your garage...


I agree! Loads of fun!.....(oh wait, is he being sincere or snarky?...hmmmm???)


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