What Is Beach Music?

by Dino Thompson

What is Beach music? There are beaucoup definitions. Did it just volcano up one day? No, it evolved slooowly and beautifully from ragtime, blues, rockabilly, gospel, jazz, jump blues, boogie woogie, to something we cherish today as Beach Music. Ask any old jitterbug, shagger, shuffler, lifeguard, carney or juke-joint bartender and they’ve got a story at the ready. Let’s just say Beach Music is the forbidden R&B music that for a couple decades could only be heard on the southern jukeboxes at the beach. And when we say beach, we mean our own 50-mile stretch of sand.

So why is it so important to honor these artists and songs? Because the music is one of our most treasured, enduring and joyful American art forms. Because the lyrics and melodies are almost never hateful, demeaning or dripping with misery. Because the music is romantic, sexy, upbeat, joyous, and chicken-shack rockin. We jitterbugged to Jordan, shagged to the Clovers, swayed to Ivory Joe and and smooched to the Platters. The music is still peanut-buttered to our memories.

And as much as any law, or supreme court decision, the sheer power of its emotional appeal and backbeat brought us together. Black and white, rich and poor, we jumped the rope, crossed the dance floor and came down from the balconies to share the music and share a memory.

Many great labels carried the torch and filled the colorful nickel-a-play Rock-Olas and Wurlitzers with the sounds we honor tonight. But probably the greatest, was Atlantic records which served up many of those wondrous gospel-tinged voices we honor tonight. Here’s what Atlantic exec Jerry Wexler had to say around 1950….

“We put out records every 3 weeks. Ruth Brown, Drifters, Chuck Willis, Ray Charles, Ivory Joe Hunter, the Clovers and Lavern Baker. We never cared about a white market. Didn’t look for it. But then, we became aware southern white kids were buying our records. That happened long before the kids in the north began to dig R&B. In May we always came out with what was known as a BEACH RECORD. It would be a hit in the pavilions, the bathing places, and all through the Carolinas. The music never missed.”

Music we can’t scrub out of our memory with Ajax. That’s the real Beach Music definition. So whether you boogie, shag, sway or listen from a lazy-boy, we urge you to rediscover America’s most joyous art form…Beach Music and the forgotten geniuses who created it.