THE BURNING QUESTION on Quora today was “Who was the first rock & roll superstar to be discarded and forgotten to time?” Of course, I couldn’t resist, although my answer may not have been exactly what the questioner was looking for in forgotten superstars. But who knows—maybe this is exactly the kind of thinking-provoking answer the asker wanted?
The answer that I posted on Quora is between the images below. The stipulations are important: a number of black R&B artists of the early 1950s could have been included but that’s not the point I wanted to make.
I don’t recall when the term superstar came into common usage, but it wasn’t hyperbolically bandied about in the ’50s or ’60s the way it has been since the ’70s.
Even given my conditions (listed below), other artists could have been chosen — I just thought these three stood out and in need of the proper historical consideration!
Bill Haley, Pat Boone, and Elvis Presley were three of the most important singers in the nascent years of rock & roll in helping to open up white Top 40 radio to black rhythm & blues music. In my decades of arguing with music fans, I have heard all three dismissed and denigrated as mere “pop artists” by different generations of (usually unbelievably ignorant) young fans.
Under-appreciated by historians
Before I say who I believe was the first rock & roll superstar to be discarded and forgotten to time, I want to point out four things:
1. Decades later, we have no universally agreed-upon definition of rock & roll.
2. Decades later, we have no universally agreed-upon definition of superstar.
3. No artist who has had even one hit single has been truly “forgotten”—at least not yet.
4. I am interpreting “forgotten to time” to mean “under-appreciated by today’s young fans and historians who did not have parents who grew up listening to the rock & roll of the ′50s and ’60s or an oldies radio stations that played rock & roll hits of the ’50s and ’60s in their region while growing up.
With those caveats stipulated, understood, and accepted, then I offer these three artists (and the years in which they were arguably superstars) as answers to the question:
• Bill Haley (1954–1956)
• Pat Boone (1955–1958)
• Connie Francis (1957–1962)
Finally, for those readers interested in more on Ms. Francis, check out “Should Connie Francis Be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?”
FEATURED IMAGE: When Elvis Presley met Bill Haley backstage on October 22, 1955, the former’s star was in the ascendancy while the latter’s was already dimming. By the end of the decade, Haley was already arguably the first discarded and forgotten superstar in rock & roll’s then very brief history—at least in his native America. Demand for his appearances and his records continued in Europe into the ’70s.