Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Death of a Legend – R.I.P.

The seemingly ageless Dick Clark, with his wholesome appearance and ever-present grin, was promoted as “America's oldest teenager” and was among the most powerful arbiters of pop-music for 35 years, died April 18 at a hospital in Santa Monica, Calif., after a heart attack. He was 82.

Clark, a television host and entrepreneur who sold rock-and-roll to Middle America on the dance show “American Bandstand” and counted down the New Year with millions of TV viewers as emcee of an annual celebration in New York's Times Square. He was regarded as a man with an unerring sense of what Americans wanted to hear and see, and he achieved his greatest renown for an ability to connect with the tastes of the post-World War II baby boom.

From 1952 to 1987, Mr. Clark hosted various incarnations of “American Bandstand,” first over the radio in Philadelphia and later on national television. The program was a sensation because of the prominent role it gave teenagers — who were always shown clean-cut in jackets, ties and sweaters — to vote on their favorite song.

By the show’s 30th anniversary, almost 600,000 teenagers and 10,000 performers had appeared on the program. Among those to make early national appearances on the show included Buddy Holly, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, and Simon and Garfunkel. If you did not know the first performer to appear on the show was Elvis Presley. The show was known to introduce such dance crazes such as the Twist and the Watusi to the American public.

“Dick Clark was significant in transforming the record business into an international industry,” read the citation in 1993 when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The citation went on to say that “his weekly televised record hops — which predated MTV by 25 years — played an integral role in establishing rock and roll, keeping it alive and shaping its future.”

After “American Bandstand” ended its run on ABC in 1987, Mr. Clark took it into syndication for two years and then handed it over to a new host, David Hirsch. It went off the air shortly thereafter. Despite his prominence on-camera, Mr. Clark said the vast majority of his work was done behind the scenes as a producer.

Dick Clark Productions provided ABC with the “New Year's Rockin' Eve” television spectacular every year since 1972. Mr. Clark had initially pitched the show as a hipper alternative to the longstanding broadcast tradition of airing Guy Lombardo's big band playing “Auld Lang Syne” from New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Mr. Clark drew in audiences that inaugural year with performances by Three Dog Night, Helen Reddy, Al Green, and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Richard Wagstaff Clark was born Nov. 30, 1929, in Mount Vernon, N.Y. As a teen, he staffed the mailroom of a Utica, N.Y., radio station where his father was a manager, and eventually became a weather announcer there. At his high school, he was class president and involved in the dramatics club. He was voted “Most Likely to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge.”

He sniffed at those who called his professional work trivial. “I am in a commercial business,” he once said. “What is wrong with giving people what they want, what they enjoy?” What I remember most about the man was that he fought against racism in the industry allowing many black performers to regularly appear on American Bandstand. It also was the inspiration behind the imagination of Mr. Don Cornelius who produced and founded “Soul Train”.

Thank you Mr. Clark for your vision and support of black music, may you rest in peace. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

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