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American Bandstand aired in the Chicago market in what is commonly known as the after-school time slot. I can’t remember for sure, but I think it was 4 p.m., CST.
I remember stepping up my pace during my 15 block walk home from Proviso East High School, checking my watch periodically, and mentally doing my homework so as to get it done and out of the way in time to watch Justine and Bob lead The Stroll. They were so darned good-looking and chic.
Pat Molittieri, Kenny Rossi, and Arlene Sullivan. Arlene and Kenny were a couple, too. All were as familiar as my girlfriends on the majorette squad and the guys I danced with every morning in the upper gym before school even started. That’s where we tried to do the same dances, but with a decidedly Chicago spin to them. Philly was fine, but Chi-Town was cooler.
Things were so different, then, of course.
I remember asking my mother several times why there were no “colored” kids dancing on American Bandstand. That’s what we called ourselves at the time. Everybody else called us that, too, which is probably why we did.
“That’s just the way things are, Lezlie. Whites dance with whites and colored dance with colored.”
“That’s fine,” I’d say, “but why can’t they all be in the same room?”
The white kids at Proviso East danced in something on the first floor called the Social Room. We colored kids danced in the upper gym, where our tastes in music were taken into consideration. There was never any rule about that. Not written, anyway. Nobody covered it in our freshman homeroom. We just knew.
As usual, my Heinz-57 ancestry made no difference. I didn’t have the choice to go dance in the Social Room. Why? I would have been stared out of the room by some of the white kids and refused readmission to “our gym” by the colored ones.
It wasn’t until 1965, when I was in college and far too cool to watch television, much less American Bandstand, that the wildly popular program had its first black regulars on the show. It could be argued that at least half the musical groups appearing live on the show from the gitgo were black; Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and later the Jackson Five.
Dick Clark, the legendary man behind all that dancing died today. America’s Oldest Teenager suffered a heart attack at the age of 82. He put Philadelphia on the map for television viewers and made music one of the most important aspects of my teenaged years.
Thanks for all you did for teens, Dick.