by Phil Gallo
Foremost among his countless contributions to popular culture and the music business, Dick Clark took rock ‘n’ roll out of bedroom radios and placed it on televisions in living rooms and dens across America. Nearly five decades later, after creating and hosting game shows, the American Music Awards, New Year’s Eve celebrations and producing TV shows and films, “American Bandstand” remains the jewel in Clark’s crown.
Clark was 82 years old when he died Wednesday (April 18) of a heart attack in at Saint John’s Health Center in Los Angeles. A fixture on television since he took over as host of the local “Bandstand” show in Philadelphia in 1956, Clark was a less visible presence after suffering a stroke in 2004, but he soldiered through numerous appearances as he was handing over the baton to a new generation.
With boyish looks that made him seem only a few years older than the teens who filled the studios at WFIL for “Bandstand,” Clark was instrumental in providing exposure to budding rock stars whose access to TV airwaves was highly limited. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly were among the young, budding artists who appeared on the show when it went national as “American Bandstand” on Aug. 5, 1957 on ABC.
Clark, who was almost 28 at that time, understood that teenagers were trend-conscious and that the shows needed to reflect changes in clothing, hairstyles and dances as well as radio’s top 40. The dancers, all of them Philadelphia high schoolers, were a more consistent presence than any musical stars; “American Bandstand” took a democratic approach to pop music, relying on the strength of songs rather than superstar talent.