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The Nicest Kids in Town

Matt Delmont, Author

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America's Bandstand: 1957-1964

The history of discrimination on American Bandstand is important because the program was the first television show to construct an image of national youth culture. Through a range of production strategies, American Bandstand encouraged the show’s viewers, advertisers, and television affiliates to see it as the thread that stitched together different teenagers in different parts of the country into a coherent and recognizable national youth culture. From large markets like San Francisco and New Orleans to small towns like Lawton, Oklahoma and Waukegan, Illinois, American Bandstand invited viewers to consume the sponsors’ snacks and soft drinks along with the latest music and dances. More importantly, the program encouraged teenagers to imagine themselves as part of a national audience participating in the same consumption rituals at the same time. The central problem facing American Bandstand’s producers was that their show’s marketability depended on both the creative energies of black performers and the erasure of black teenagers. Although American Bandstand’s music and dances were influenced by deejays Georgie Woods and Mitch Thomas and their black teenage fans, the image of youth culture American Bandstand presented to its national audience bore little resemblance to the interracial makeup of Philadelphia’s rock and roll scene. As the television program that did the most to define the image of youth in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the exclusionary racial practices of American Bandstand marginalized black teens from this imagined national youth culture.
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