Matt's Music History Monday - A Brief History of American Bandstand
September 5th, 2016 – For over 30 years, the magnetic pull of American Bandstand ushered teenagers, scurrying home from school, into their favorite living room seats. It was here where many families first heard rock ‘n’ roll and where many emerging artists first performed for a national audience. During its seemingly endless run, American Bandstand helped catalyze the success of many recording artists as well as the success of its affable host, Dick Clark. In its nascent form, the show was eponymously named Bob Horn’s Bandstand, after its original host. Due to legal troubles involving drunk driving and prostitution, Horn was canned and the torch was eventually passed to Dick Clark. With Clark standing in the vanguard, the program went from a local Philadelphia broadcast to a national sensation that played a prominent role in shaping American music and television.
Born in Mount Vernon, NY in 1929, Dick Clark was the youngest son of Richard and Julia Clark. He developed an affinity for radio, and media more broadly, at an early age, likely due to his father’s occupation as manager of an AM radio station that was owned by his uncle. Despite beginning his career in radio as an office worker, his innate charisma moved a station manager to use him as a stand-in when established newscasters vacationed. Following his time as an undergraduate at Syracuse, he eventually landed a job at WFIL in Philadelphia as a disc jockey. When Bob Horn was dismissed by the station for intemperate conduct, Dick was given the role of host on Bandstand. Soon after, ABC purchased the rights to Bandstand and the show was renamed American Bandstand.
On August 5th, 1957, the rebranded program debuted to a national audience with Clark at the helm. American Bandstand was spurred on to almost immediate widespread popularity due to the novel format of the program coupled with Clark’s boyish charm. By 1959, the show was already averaging around 20 million viewers and many pioneering rock ‘n’ roll acts became instant stars after making appearances on the show. Ralph Edwards, the host of This is Your Life, went so far as to call Dick Clark “America’s Youngest Starmaker.” The title was well warranted as Clark quickly had America’s youth rocking with Chuck Berry, twisting with Chubby Checker and squirming in nervous excitement with Jerry Lee Lewis. The show’s influence on American teenagers was not only felt in the late 1950’s, but also over the course of the following three decades. As music evolved between 1957-1987, the show played a part in propelling the popularity of a diverse amalgam of acts like the Jackson 5, ABBA, Prince and even Falco.
The success of the show helped Dick Clark become a ubiquitous figure on American television sets as he would go on to host popular game shows like The Object Is, Missing Links and The $10,000 Pyramid. One of his most famous ventures outside of American Bandstand was hosting Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, which still remains an incredibly popular show hosted by Ryan Seacrest. Like the original program, today’s incarnation still features the hottest artists on the Billboard charts. Unfortunately, Clark’s career as a distinguished television personality was severely limited in 2004 following a massive stroke. But Dick Clark’s name remains permanent in the hearts of those who were entertained by him and also through his many awards, which include: a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Peabody Award and multiple Emmy Awards.
American Bandstand and Dick Clark not only left an indelible mark on music, but also on popular television programming. Its influence is not only seen in obvious examples like Soul Train and Top of the Pops, but it is also apparent in the visual-first approach of networks like MTV and VH1. While the final airing of American Bandstand was on September 5th, 1987, its legacy lives on through the enduring music of the bands it championed and the music-based television programs we still sit down and enjoy today. To those reading, “For now, Dick Clark. So long.”