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Remembering When Jersey City Tried to Ban Rock ‘N’ Roll

by Eliot Hudson
Attain Medspa
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On the evening of July 9th, 1956, Bill Haley and the Comets could not Rock Around the Clock, because the group had been banned from performing at Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium. In a plot anticipating the storyline of Footloose, the entire municipality of Jersey City banned Rock ‘n’ Roll, terrified of “rock and roll music and its ‘dangerous worm wiggle.’” Read on for more about this unforgettable moment in Jersey City’s music history.

bill haley and comets 1956

^ Bill Haley + the Comets. Photo Credit: Public Domain

The Venue: Roosevelt Stadium

At one time, Jersey City boasted one of the area’s larger stadium venues for musical performances. Once located at today’s Danforth Ave and Route 440, from 1937 until 1978 Roosevelt Stadium not only catered to sporting events such as baseball, boxing, football, and soccer but also exhibited some of the biggest names in music. In addition to sports phenoms like Max Baer, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jackie Robinson, and Pelé, Roosevelt Stadium also hosted musical acts including Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper, Chicago, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, Three Dog Night, The Band, Santana, The Allman Brothers Band, The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, The Doobie Brothers, Kiss, and many more.

roosevelt stadium

Photo Credit: Public Domain

The Station Hoboken
Club Pilates 2023

The venue was so famous that in July 2023 the shoe manufacturer New Balance modeled a shoe in honor of Roosevelt Stadium and Jersey City called New Balance 440 — named after the bypassing road, NJ Route 440. New Balance even collaborated with Jersey City’s #1 #2 pencil manufacturer, General Pencil Company, to craft 1,000 specialty pencils that read “Roosevelt Stadium, April 19th, 1946”, a nod to the date on which Jackie Robinson first broke Baseball’s Color Barrier by playing at Roosevelt Stadium in a minor league game anticipating his major league debut.

roosevelt stadium

Zap Fitness

^ The location today

Read More: Jersey City’s Kool + the Gang Being Inducted Into Rock + Roll Hall of Fame

The Performers: Bill Haley + the Comets

Between 1954 and 1956, Bill Haley and the Comets had placed nine songs into America’s “Top 20 Singles”. The group was scheduled to perform before an audience of 24,000 screaming fans at Roosevelt Stadium in July 1956. Their song “Rock Around the Clock” became the best-selling single in Rock ‘n’ Roll history, retaining that coveted position for many years.

Promoter Paul Whiteman dubbed the event “the first outdoor rock ’n’ roll concert ever held.” Three days before the concert was banned, The Jersey Journal excitedly reported: “History will be made next Friday night at Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City. Some people might even call it musical history.”

But not everyone was enthusiastic about the new genre. Moral crusaders had forced Paul to mandate the performance be an “all-listening – no-dancing show.” The Jersey Journal went on to explain that:

“Rock ’n’ roll hasn’t had a happy history in Hudson County. Several months ago a rock ’n’ roll show at a Journal Square theater was called off because authorities feared the youngsters attending might commit several kinds of mayhem afterward.”

 

Jersey City Mayor Bernard Berry and Commissioners Lawrence A. Whipple and Joshua Ringle announced they were withdrawing permission to use the municipally-owned stadium, thus banning the show dubbed “Rock’n’Roll Under the Stars.” In a joint statement, the three officials said: “We want to avoid the riots reported to have resulted from rock ’n roll sessions in other communities.”

bernard berry

^ Mayor Bernard Berry. Photo Credit: Public Domain

In particular, Commissioner Lawrence had his sights set on the new genre and had “set rock ’n roll music back” when he’d previously banned concerts in Journal Square.

The Ban

Rock ‘N’ Roll was so new at the time that there was no consensus as to how to even spell the emerging genre, with The Asbury Park Press broadcasting: “Rock and Roll Concert Banned” (July 10th, 1956). Other newspapers, such as New Brunswick’s The Daily Home News, ran headlines like “New Ban Hits Rock ’N’ Roll” (July 10th, 1956).

The event has even made history books, such as Thaddeus Russell’s A Renegade History of the United States. Jersey City was not alone in its crusade against Rock. As Thaddeus writes:

“Several cities banned rock performances, including Washington, DC, Boston, Baltimore, Hartford, Atlanta, Houston, Jersey City, Newark, Cleveland, Santa Cruz, San Antonio, Burbank, New Haven, and New Britain.”

Those in Support

Promoter Paul Whiteman blamed “intolerant parents,” adding: “The older folks look on anything new in music or dancing with skepticism…Look back when the Charleston was first performed — or jazz. Anyone who enjoyed jazz was doing wrong. Now jazz is recognized as THE American music.”

Even jazz-legend, Duke Ellington supported rock ‘n’ roll. He explained, “As for producing any excessive sexual excitement, rock ’n’ roll is no more guilty than a lively country dance…The most sensual music is the waltz. I think Strauss wrote some of the sexiest music there is.”

duke ellington

^ Duke Ellington. Photo Credit: Public Domain

See More: A Guide to Live Music Spots in Montclair + Essex County

Pop and Country Music heroin, Patti Page went on record saying “I don’t see how it’s possible for any kind of music to encourage a general behavior pattern…Rock ’n’ roll, to me, represents a certain part of America. It’s a fad and, like all fads, it will eventually pass and be replaced by something else.”

patti page

^ Patti Page. Photo Credit: Public Domain

Of course, rock ‘n’ roll did not pass as a fad, and remains here to stay. Though Jersey City missed out on being the site of the “first open-air rock concert in history,” today’s Jersey City music scene is a testament to Rock’s triumph over the Ban, with venues such as White Eagle Hall, Lucky 7 Tavern, and Monty Hall carrying the torch, providing live Rock ‘N’ Roll…with dancing.

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