It was the place to be and he made it all happen. For 47 years, pop music’s television home was “American Bandstand” and the gentleman who hosted the long-running program was Dick Clark, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82.
Clark was many things besides the cheerful, unflappable host of “Bandstand.” A one-man media empire, Clark worked as if he were single-handedly trying to create enough programs to fill an entire network. He concepted and hosted game shows such as “The $10,000 Pyramid,” (which eventually morphed into “The $100,000 Pyramid”) and award shows like the “American Music Awards,” not to mention “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve,” which became an essential component of holiday festivities. He wasn’t into learning music production, but he dabbled in film production and appeared on camera in a couple of theatrical roles.
A one-man production dynamo, Clark also founded the American Music Awards, several of which were won by his friend, Michael Jackson. Clark had first introduced the nation to The Jackson Five on “Bandstand” in 1970.
But Clark will always be most closely associated with “Bandstand,” which at first was just another televised teenage dance party broadcast from a Philadelphia TV station. (At that time, most American cities large enough to have a television station had some type of similar program.) Clark’s triumph was to convince the ABC network to carry “Bandstand” as part of its national line-up. By 1957, the program was being run coast-to-coast and well on its way to becoming a national institution.
This was how “Bandstand” first looked. Constant dancing and interviews with the teen dancers. One popular feature: Rate-A-Record. (Sample interview response: “It had a good beat and it was easy to dance to. I give it an 85.”)
Stars on 45
Who appeared on “American Bandstand”? A better question is who didn’t. Pop icons such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, The Beach Boys, Prince, Chuck Berry, The Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder, KISS and James Brown all made the scene.
And as pop music evolved through the years, “Bandstand” worked to keep up with all the changes. When Motown began to dominate pop charts in the 60s, acts like Marvin Gaye and The Supremes appeared on the show. As the 70s Disco craze grew, artists such as Donna Summer and K.C. & The Sunshine Band were showcased. When Punk gave way to New Wave, “Bandstand” remained hip enough to feature emerging bands like Blondie and DEVO.
During the 80s, “Bandstand” brought national exposure to the first generation of Rap artists (including Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.), as well as to classic Rock bands of the day (e.g., Talking Heads, R.E.M.). And while it’s true that the program tended to focus on pop music’s softer sounds, the show did plenty to introduce audiences to hard Rock. If not, why would rockers like Aerosmith, The Doors and Steely Dan have bothered to appear?
“American Bandstand” finally left the airwaves in 1989, but that didn’t stop Clark from staying busy. Neither did a traumatic 2004 stroke that partially impaired his ability to speak. Clark remained the host of his New Year’s Eve show, although he finally shared hosting responsibilities with “American Idol’s” Ryan Seacrest.
Clark (who was born in Bronxville, New York) was thrice married and had three grown children—not to mention an extended family of millions of television viewers who both liked and respected him. At the end of each broadcast of “American Bandstand,” Dick Clark would stand at his podium, always smiling and impeccably dressed in suit and tie, while dancing teenagers continued to whirl around him. He’d invite us back next week, say “So long” and always give a casual salute.
Right back at ya, Mr. Clark…
The Music Legends series pays tributes to influential artists (in this case, music personalities) and styles of music. If you have an artist or type of music you’d like us to showcase, let us know via the comments.
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