Black Community Responds To Dick Clark’s Passing
Pres. Obama, musicians mourn impresario’s legacy of bridging cultures
On Wednesday evening, the world learned of TV and radio impresario Dick Clark’s passing. The 82-year-old died of a heart attack in a California hospital, after years of illness put a stopper on his ever-present tastemaker brand.
Most widely known by younger generations for his annual New Years Eve television special, Clark’s career spanned more than 60 years.
Not soon after news of his passing, the entertainment world began remembering the impact Clark had on integrating his iconic and historic TV show, American Bandstand – particularly giving airtime to African American musicians.
From an Associated Press report:
He helped give black artists their due by playing original R&B recordings instead of cover versions by white performers, and he condemned censorship.
He joined "American Bandstand" in 1956 after Bob Horn, who'd been the host since its 1952 debut, was fired. A year later, Clark integrated the show with black dancers.
"It still wasn't acceptable for them to dance with white kids, so the blacks just danced with each other. We were waiting for the explosion, but it never happened," Clark told Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine in 1998. "The wonderful part about our decision to integrate then was that there were no repercussions, no reverberations, no battles at all — it just happened right there on a television screen in front of millions of people."
President Barack Obama released a statement Wednesday evening from the White House:
"Michelle and I are saddened to hear about the passing of Dick Clark. With 'American Bandstand,' he introduced decades’ worth of viewers to the music of our times. He reshaped the television landscape forever as a creative and innovative producer. And, of course, for 40 years, we welcomed him into our homes to ring in the New Year. But more important than his groundbreaking achievements was the way he made us feel – as young and vibrant and optimistic as he was. As we say a final “so long” to Dick Clark, America’s oldest teenager, our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends – which number far more than he knew."
American Bandstand was shot from Philadelphia, during a tumultuous time for race relations. Still, Clark cherished his experiences on the periphery of the early civil rights movement, according to interviews he’d given over the years.
Sound of Philadelphia founders Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff released a statement Wednesday, speaking to Clark’s impact on their careers:
"As fellow Philadelphians, we have admired Dick Clark and the 'American Bandstand' brand for many years, as it promoted Philadelphia music around the nation. Dick Clark was one of our inspirations for creating the ‘Sound of Philadelphia’ music brand. More importantly, we thank him for being one of the pioneers in promoting the Philly Dance and Music scene for the nation and world to enjoy."
Some have disputed how big of a role Clark played in bridging white and black communities.
Matt Delmont, professor of American Studies at Scripps College and author of “The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia,” reveals how American Bandstand "discriminated against black youth during its early years and how black teens and civil rights advocates protested this discrimination."