What Rock and Roll Really Means

Dr. Jacklyn Chisholm, vice president of planning and external affairs for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (Rock Hall) in Cleveland, talks about the legacy of rock and roll in the African-American community.

Did you know that the term “rock and roll” was slang for sex in the African-American community in the early 1900s?

You’ll find that out—and more—if you are lucky enough to talk to Dr. Jacklyn Chisholm, vice president of planning and external affairs for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (Rock Hall) in Cleveland. This position, which she’s held since 2005, lets her combine her unique background as a cultural anthropologist, her love of music and her need to give back to her community.

Dr. Chisholm is proud to emphasize the music’s—and the nonprofit Rock Hall’s—strong connection to the African-American community.

In the 1960s, white disc jockey Alan Freed was in Cleveland and wanted to expand his rhythm-and-blues show to get more white appeal. He was looking for a new name, “and that’s how ‘rock and roll’ was born,” she says.

A native Clevelander, she worked in higher education (most recently at Case Western Reserve University) for 16 years but wanted to do something else.

“I’m a spiritual person and I was praying about the where,” she recalls.

A mentor told her that the Rock Hall wanted to create a position to increase community involvement, and the fit was just right. Dr. Chisholm has been instrumental in the Rock Hall’s continuous efforts to help both the Greater Cleveland area and the global community through educational programs for children, music therapy and merchandise for nonprofits, to name a few of the efforts.

“We average over 400,000 people in a year from 50 states and 100 countries. Our economic impact in the 15 years we’ve been around is $1.6 billion,” she says.

For the Cleveland community in particular, the augmentation to local arts programs is important because of decreases in state funding. They even teach a financial-literacy class, sponsored by KeyBank (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies) in which students are the tour managers for a rock band.

She relates on a personal level to adult learners, first-generation college students and low-income students who need a chance. She was one of three daughters of a single mother who constantly struggled to have enough money. “My mother kept emphasizing education, education, education. That was the way out,” she recalls.

For Dr. Chisholm, music is also critical to expanding horizons. “Music is a language we speak. From the African-American perspective, a lot of people are angry about the history that they know about white artists covering songs and making lots of money. What they don’t understand is that the museum celebrates music of all kinds and definitely includes the African-American perspective. Come and see that we celebrate it every day here.”


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One comment

  • I adore the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and appreciate the way the curators tell the history of American music coming from so many diverse people and places. The one area of diversity they need to keep working on is the perception and presentation of the contributions of female artists.

    For example, there is an exhibit coming up dedicated to women in rock called “Girls on Film.” I have two problems with that: one is that they’re referencing a Duran Duran song (and the band had no female members … and for what it’s worth the video featured a lot of scantily clad models who weren’t exactly rock-and-rollers); and two, these aren’t girls: they’re women. Their contributions are diminished when the focus shifts from their music – or their adulthood – toward them being eye candy.

    Another couple of examples: the lobby monitors feature Michelle Phillips commenting about Cass Elliot watching the induction ceremony from heaven “in a size 4” dress … so the viewer remembers the artist less for her music and more for her size. Also, Bonnie Raitt’s clip in the induction montage has her telling a little girl that she got into music “so I could meet boys” – which could very well be true but couldn’t we have a quote from her about her music?

    I look forward to bringing my daughters back to the museum and finding even more to explore about a subject I’m really passionate about so they’ll be inspired – and included – in the experience as girls and women.

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