It has been over fifty years since The Day The Music Died- the night a Beechcraft Bonanza B35 descended from the wintry skies and crashed into a snow covered corn field just outside of Clear Lake, Iowa. It was to be the end of Rock 'n' Roll. The end of a rebellion that compromised the values of America's middle class. Yet, here we are in the years, with one of the most popular musicals on Broadway- American Idiot- telling the story of a boys escape from the monotony of the suburban nomenclature. the saga of Jesus of Suburbia's exodus from Jingletown seems to parallel the youthful cries of independence, and the desire to split from the confines of conformity echoed in the lyrics of sixties Rock 'n' Roll.
So, how did this media find its prominence? How did a culture sustain the generations of adverse social condemnation? How did the conformity to the Reconstruction Amendments overpower Jim Crow segregation? How, did the leniency of self indulgence surpass the rigors of temperance? How did freedom of speech combat The Smith Acts? Where did it begin?
The pioneers of the music stood in defiance, shouting the songs of freedom with a civil disobedience void of arms, with words without guns, with guitars instead of bombs. The golden rule was accepted by the common sense- do unto others as you would have them do unto you...let all God's children Rock!
This is the saga of Benson's House, and it begins with the final stages of America's Civil War. The nucleus can be observed in a 1866 editorial observing a musical group of emancipated slaves performing on the platform stage in the basement tavern of The Benson Inn-
The influence of West Africa’s tradition is heard in the compositional reflections of this new music. It is a sound that achieves emancipation from conventions, equal in relevance with the freedoms from the blight of slavery. These songs are significant in meaning to the Black man- who cradles the melodies passionately within the depths of his soul. The great metropolitan cities of the north, who welcome the former slaves as new citizens, will also welcome and host their music and philosophies. The Congo Square Players are taking the pastoral sonnets of the plantation lifestyle and transcending them into a genesis of urban romanticism that will define art and culture for generations to come.
Those not born into slavery were distinguished as Motherless children- souls plucked from their villages and families, forced to be transported overseas like livestock, and sold into bondage by a nation recently proclaiming their Independence as champions of human equality. They were given slave names to replace the identities chosen by their progenitors.
The mark of the motherless child became a symbol of rebellion; a pseudonym identifying a defiance against destiny. Great achievers have strolled from the wilderness and accepted the slave name. For many of my generation the moniker of Bob Dylan was the most perfect example. In the weeks to follow the legend will be further revealed and the lesson will be clearly identified.
RIP: Ben Keith.