Richard Aquila is a professor emeritus of history at Penn State University and the former director of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Penn State Behrend. He specializes in U.S. social and cultural history, particularly the American West, American Indians, popular culture, and recent America. His publications include Let's Rock! How 1950s America Created Elvis and the Rock & Roll Craze (2016); The Sagebrush Trail: Western Movies and Twentieth-Century America (2015); Wanted Dead or Alive: The American West in Popular Culture (1996); Home Front Soldier: The Story of a G.I. and His Italian American Family during World War II (1999); That Old Time Rock and Roll: A Chronicle of An Era, 1954–63 (1989); and The Iroquois Restoration: Iroquois Diplomacy on the Colonial Frontier, 1701–1754 (1983, 1997). Aquila has also written, produced, and hosted numerous documentaries for npr. His weekly public history series, "Rock & Roll America," was syndicated on npr and npr Worldwide. In addition, he has written columns for The Hill, Salon, and USA Today.
This talk places the birth of rock & roll in context of 1950s America. The historical evidence suggests that rock & roll was not as rebellious as common wisdom has it. Instead, the new sound was in tune with the conservatism of America's cold war culture. Early rock & roll reflected the consensus and conformity of the 1950s as much as it did the era's conflict.