The mercury is still stubbornly high, the crowds of summer are mostly gone and the kids are back in school. For a few blessed weeks, local adults may actually have the area’s 50 miles of beach mostly to themselves while it’s still warm enough to enjoy. What better time to listen to some classic beach music?
On Sunday, the Beach Music Hall of Fame at Coastal Carolina University will induct its second class of honorees (read more about it in Friday’s Kicks! section). The still young organization will honor Chuck Berry, Earl Bostic, Ray Charles, The Coasters, The Embers, The Ink Spots and The Platters.
The catchy genre of music evolved in the ‘40s and ‘50s, from elements of blues, ragtime, rockabilly, gospel and a little bit of various other more established types. In other words, it’s hard to pin down exactly what constitutes a beach music hit, but if we may appropriate Justice Potter Stewart’s famous words, “I know it when I see it.”
Why is it worth remembering? Well, if we discount the fact that it’s just plain great music, it’s worth remembering for the same reason that we remember any part of our history: Because we must first establish where we come from before we move on to what’s ahead. This is the music that moved a generation, that built the Pavilion on Myrtle Beach’s oceanfront and that inspired the shaggers that still gather in the thousands each year to shuffle, shimmy and sashay across the dance floor.
Even more than that, during what was a tumultuous period in the South leading up to what became known as the civil rights movement, the music brought together what were still very disparate racial communities. The music and the dance floor became one of the few shared experiences between young white and black residents and visitors. Though it was a small step, to be sure, as many of the black bands that traveled through the area were still forced to stay in segregated Atlantic Beach, the music did serve as an important initial cultural tie on which future bonds could be built.
The Hall of Fame itself explains the importance of the genre well: “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.”
These early pioneers – the hall limited its selections to music from or before 1957 – also inspired, and in some cases later participated in, what became Carolina beach music. The subgenre that followed beach music thrived for decades and still commands a strong regional following even as some of its most famous names fade – General Norman Johnson of the Chairmen of the Board died in 2010, others are aging, such as Jackie Gore of The Embers and Bo Schronce of The Fantastic Shakers. The beloved original musicians are disappearing all too quickly. The Carolina beach style, uniquely tied to our coast, has had its own hall of fame inducting members since 1995, testament to the popularity of the music. But everybody stands on the shoulders of those who went before, and in this case, it’s the even earlier artists who deserve some credit.
It’s fitting that we take some time out to remember and celebrate these pioneering artists and the still amazing music they put together. We certainly have our favorites among the catalogs of this year’s honorees. Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” still gets our feet tapping, Bostic’s “Flamingo” starts us swaying and the Ink Spots’ “Gypsy” has us looking for a partner to hold tight on the dance floor. You undoubtedly have your own preferences. This would be a good weekend to dig out those 45s and LPs and give what the Hall calls “America’s most joyous art form” a spin once more.