“Life could be a dream, sweetheart” : Toronto & the birth of rock & roll

The Torontoist on Jul. 30, carried an interesting article on one Toronto group’s role in the birth of rock & roll.

In 1954, a vocal quartet, The Crew Cuts, were, as their name suggests, a classic example of the then-prevailing trend to have white musicians cover popular songs recorded by black musicians. This phenomenon of the time would occur if a song by a black R&B artist was a big enough seller, especially if it appeared to be popular enough that it might crossover from the R&B to the Pop charts.  Inevitably, the white version became the big seller, despite losing most of the heart — and soul — of the original.

Some cover artists were better than others. Bill Haley was no Joe Turner, but at least he had a feel for R&B. Elvis’s “That’s All Right, Mama” may have outdone the original by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup.

In 1954, the song”Sh-Boom”, as recorded originally by The Chords was indeed, one of those rare R&B songs that did cross over to the Pop Charts. Enter,Toronto’s own crew-cutted graduates of St. Michael’s Choir School. Their version of the song is a classic “white-breading” of an R&B hit, but it became the #2 selling pop record of the year.

Listen to both versions, and some others, by both groups in the article. It also includes some old live TV footage of the Crew Cuts.