Features February 16, 2023
Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer Maurice Rocco on Film

Every month is Black History Month at Afropop and in celebration of February we are taking a deep dive into rock 'n' roll´s DNA in the form of Maurice Rocco. Black music is a continuum with no beginning or end and rock 'n' roll was already there in some form in Africa before the 1950's rock 'n' roll as we know it today. However let´s give credit where credit is due but boogie woogie, the progenitor of rock 'n' roll was first recorded in 1928 by Clarence "Pinetop" Smith.

Boogie woogie and the original MC Clarence Smith´s contribution to the genre of rock 'n' roll is undeniable, and his musical innovation and rhythmic showmanship inspired the likes of Maurice Rocco.

Born Maurice John Rockhold on June 26, 1915, he was an American pianist, singer, actor, and composer best known for playing boogie-woogie piano while standing up. He was a top nightclub and theater draw in the 1930s and 1940s, and made several film appearances.

He would have a successful career playing himself in popular movies of the time with a stand-out performance in Incendiary Blonde (1945). You need to watch the whole film to see the context of this scene and his showmanship in one take.

Like many African-American artists of his time denied access by institutionalized white supremacy in the United States, he toured Canada, and Europe before becoming a fixture in Bangkok, Thailand where he was murdered.

In this final archival clip whose date is unknown but an early television special, Maurice Rocco performs on the piano in his signature standup style introduced by none other than show business legend Bob Hope.

Maurice Rocco and his legacy lives on in rock 'n' roll today.

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