- Written by Eddie Collins Eddie Collins
“We’re goin hoppin,’ we’re going hoppin’ today, where things are boppin’ the Philadelphia way, we’re gonna drop in, on all the music they play … I love Bandstand!” – Barry Manilow
It was a phenomenon, a trendsetter, and a way of culture for teenagers across the country, and it all came to life on a television show named American Bandstand.
The concept included playing popular music geared toward teens, having them dance to it, and televising it. In 1952, this was the birth of the show emanating from WFIL-TV in Philadelphia, initially called Bandstand.
Hosted by Bob Horn, it caught on immediately. After making an impact and having a few successful years, Horn was dismissed from the show due to numerous ongoing infractions with the law.
On July 9, 1956, taking the reigns as show host was 26-year-old Dick Clark, who had been an announcer for WFIL radio. Later dubbed “the guy with the Dentyne smile,” Clark was not fully in tune with rock ’n’ roll music but aligned himself with the most popular disc jockeys and record promotion men, thus gaining a “pulse” on the new sounds.
“Dick figured out how to bring rock ’n’ roll into the living rooms of America and made the music acceptable to a mass audience, including the parents,” said Ed Salamon, partner with Dick Clark in a series of radio networks for 15 years.
The ratings of the show soared, and by Aug. 5, 1957, now known as American Bandstand, it was being seen by millions of viewers on the ABC-TV network.
From coast to coast, teenagers tuned in daily, not only for the music, but also because they identified with the dancers who became regulars, including Arlene Sullivan and Kenny Rossi, Justine Carrelli and Bob Clayton, Bunny Gibson and Ed Kelly, and Carmen and Yvette Jimenez, plus numerous others.
“I was a shy kid, and really surprised, because I wasn’t the best-looking kid, wasn’t a fashion plate—people liked me for some reason, and it took me out of my shell,” Sullivan said.
Portrayed as “the kids next door,” show regulars began appearing in teen publications, such as 16 Magazine, Photoplay, and others. This affected the way viewers dressed and, of course, the dance trends they demonstrated.
With newfound fame came fan clubs, which generated an incredible amount of mail, explained Dave Frees, president of the American Bandstand Fan Club since 1970.
“In the end of 1960, I had taken over a fan club for the Jimenez sisters, and mail the regulars received was amazing—some got 1,000 letters a week!” he said.
Dancing on American Bandstand was the highlight; kids would line around the building of WFIL-TV at 46th and Market streets in Philadelphia, hoping to get in and see their favorite artists lip synching the top hits of the day.
Many of the latest dance crazes would premiere on the show: “The Twist,” “Mashed Potato Time,” “Bristol Stomp,” and others recorded by Philly’s Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp, and the Dovells, respectively.
Bandstand also featured a legion of talent who recorded for a number of the most prominent record labels in the Quaker City, including Cameo/Parkway, Jamie/Guyden, Chancellor, and Swan records.
The song “At the Hop”—and the act who recorded it in 1957, Danny and the Juniors—can attribute their success to Dick Clark. Clark suggested that the tune, originally titled “Do the Bop,” have a slight lyric change, as the “bop” was becoming passé.
American Bandstand was also a grooming ground for many regional acts in Pennsylvania. The word was: If you got your record on Bandstand, your career was on its way.
Of those were the Jordan Brothers, hailing from Frackville, Pennsylvania, who performed three times on the show. Clark enjoyed their talent so much that in 1959 they appeared on his first “Caravan of Stars” nationwide tour.
The group’s Frank Jordan recalled Clark’s humorous side.“Dick held up a stool once, in an effort to keep the girls from trying to get at us!” Jordan said.
In late 1963, a major change came when the show moved its base from Philly to California. Clark, a fledging entrepreneur, felt there was more on the business horizon for him and took American Bandstand to Hollywood.
The move altered the show’s previous hometown charm and camaraderie, and its air schedule changed from daily to a Saturday-morning run.
“I knew once Dick left Philly, it was never going to be the same,” Sullivan said.
Nevertheless, the AB logo was prominent, and ratings kept the show in place through the 1970s and ’80s. In 1989, shortly after shifting from ABC to the USA network, Dick Clark left as host, with David Hirsch assuming duties until the final episode aired Oct. 7, 1989.
Over the years, many of music’s iconic names would grace American Bandstand, with the exception of only a few, namely Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, and the Beatles.
Even Dick Clark could not predict the advent of Beatlemania. In the summer of 1963, Bernie Binnick, head of Swan Records, asked Clark to listen to a record he was going to release, entitled “She Loves You,” by a group from England known as the Beatles.
In late September 1963, Clark reluctantly featured the song on Bandstand’s “Rate a Record” segment, where it received a No. 73. But within five months, Beatlemania and the music of the British Invasion were prominently featured on American Bandstand.
On April 18, 2012, at age 82, the world’s oldest teenager, Dick Clark, entered the gates of rock ’n’ roll heaven. After imprinting American Bandstand as a household word, Clark flourished in numerous capacities, including game show host for Pyramid and other programs.
As producer, he created the United Stations Radio Networks, and his Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve became a yearly tradition starting in 1972; the show continues today with host Ryan Seacrest.
Shortly after Clark’s passing, the former Studio B in Philadelphia—where tapings were done during American Bandstand’s heyday—was officially opened to the public, paying homage to the TV show and featuring a wealth of memorabilia for permanent viewing at the building now known as the Enterprise Center.
The show has truly lived on, with many reunions, tributes, books, and periodicals heralding its legacy.
Of recent particular note is Bandstand Diaries (www.bandstanddiaries.com) by show regular Arlene Sullivan with journalists Sharon Sultan Cutler and Ray Smith. The book is a potpourri of behind-the-scenes looks at the Bandstand days through the eyes of those who were a part of it—and who have kept its memory hoppin’ for six decades.