I was a pre-teen with a mission. I wanted to be a teenager so I could go to Philadelphia and be on Dick Clark‘s American Bandstand. My mom was pretty good about not bursting my bubble as we lived far away from Philly, I was years away from the age requirement of I think 13 or 14 to be on the dance show, and hundreds of kids lined up daily to be on the show and mostly the “regulars” from Philly the “dancing stars” I watched daily after school, were the only kids that actually danced on the show. But she would routinely say things like; “you’re a really good dancer and could do just as well as those kids.” Nothing like a mother to instill confidence and keep the dream alive.
When American Bandstand went national on ABC in 1957 with Dick Clark, it was on weekdays after school and the favorite part of my day. The couples on the show became stars by virtue of how well they danced, how cute they dressed, how cool they looked as a couple and how much we liked their hair styles. I got to know these dancers on a first name basis as Paula and Ritchie who won the Mashed Potato (dance) contest or Bunny who was the best at the Pony or Justine and Bob who everybody loved. I learned how to do the Stroll, the Hop, the Twist, the Locomotion and if I needed a partner my mom filled in. She taught me how to Jitterbug and once in a while when my dad came home from work and I would be showing him some of my new steps, he would grab my mom’s hand and “show me real dancing.”
Dick Clark gave so many singers a start on his show and it was always about the music. I watched Paul Anka, Fabian, James Brown, The Jackson 5, Connie Francis and even one hit wonders like Edd Byrnes, from the popular 77 Sunset Strip TV show. Hard to believe now but his popular song ”Cookie, Cookie Lend Me Your Comb” which he sang with Connie Stevens, also from the TV show, was a hit. What I liked most about the music on Bandstand was the variety. When no one paid attention to what diversity was all about, Clark was busy practicing it. He brought us singers, acts and bands from all walks of life and acted like it was normal–because it was. He was way ahead of his time in realizing all music was to be enjoyed by everyone and never pidgeon holed certain music or musicians to certain segments of the population. As many teens have said over the years on Bandstand when rating a new song, “it has a good beat and you can dance to it.” Those words were certainly my mantra as a kid. Thank you, Dick Clark.