Rock Music

1950s –

South Carolina has been the birthplace of numerous rock music pioneers and nationally and internationally known acts. South Carolinians, particularly African American artists, were instrumental in the development of early rock and roll.

South Carolina has been the birthplace of numerous rock music pioneers and nationally and internationally known acts. South Carolinians, particularly African American artists, were instrumental in the development of early rock and roll. The Dixie Hummingbirds, founded in Greenville in the late 1920s, were among the various African American gospel groups who influenced early rhythm and blues and emerging rock and roll of the 1950s. (The Hummingbirds had their own pop hit in 1973, appearing on Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock”). In 1953 South Carolinian Bill Pinkney helped the Drifters pioneer the rhythm and blues “doo-wop” style, later labeled “beach music,” and in 1960 Ernest Evans of Spring Gully changed his name to Chubby Checker and introduced the nation to “the twist.” However, the South Carolinian with the greatest influence on popular music since the 1950s was the Barnwell native James Brown. Merging his gospel roots with a polyrhythmic beat, blaring staccato horns, and a vocal style that moaned, groaned, shrieked, and wailed, the “Godfather of Soul” created a performance style whose influence spread internationally; laid the foundations for funk, disco, and hip-hop; and inspired later rock musicians in both sound and spectacle. Brown was one of the first performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He was later joined by Pinkney’s Drifters and Charleston-born James Jamerson, a bassist for Motown records in the 1960s and a member of Motown’s famous in-house group known as “the Funk Brothers.”

Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones were the first white rock and roll artists from South Carolina to reach national attention. Their sound was strongly influenced by the country and blues-based rockabilly style of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and the early Elvis Presley. In 1957 the Sparkletones, a group of teenagers from the Cowpens area, released their million-selling hit “Black Slacks.” Though years of successful touring and appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand followed, the Sparkletones failed to generate a second hit. Likewise, the Swinging Medallions of Greenwood are best known for a single million-seller. Their 1966 hit “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love)” has been labeled beach, frat rock, garage rock, and even protopunk and earned the band the title “party band of the South.”

The emergence of southern rock in the early 1970s brought to national attention the Marshall Tucker Band, a Spartanburg-based group whose semi-Western swing sound included multiple guitars and a flute. Signed to the successful Capricorn Records label, the home of southern rock pioneers the Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker released a string of gold and platinum records and scored such hits as “Can’t You See,” “Fire on the Mountain,” and “Heard It in a Love Song.” Spartanburg was also the home of Marshall Chapman, who began her career as a country-rock singer and guitarist in the early 1970s but is best known as a songwriter, penning songs for Jimmy Buffet, Crystal Gale, Joe Cocker, and others.

The most successful South Carolina–based rock act, in terms of both sales and Grammy awards, to emerge in the latter part of the twentieth century was Hootie and the Blowfish. Like the Swinging Medallions, Hootie and the Blowfish began as a frat-party and bar band. In 1994 the quartet, led by singer Darius Rucker, released their debut album, Cracked Rear View, on Atlantic records. The album sold more than seventeen million copies and earned the group Best New Artist awards from both MTV and the Grammies. The group won a second Grammy for the single “Let Her Cry.” The success of Hootie prompted record companies to scout South Carolina for other possible superstars. Atlantic Records signed Charleston native Edwin McCain, who scored hits with the power ballads “Solitude” (1995) and “I’ll Be” (1997). Atlantic also partnered with members of Hootie and the Blowfish to establish the short-lived Breaking Records label. Among the first bands signed to the label were Charleston’s Jump! Little Children and Columbia’s Treadmill Trackstar. After Atlantic dropped the label in 2001, Hootie and the Blowfish established Handpicked Records, an independent label based in Columbia, and released two compilation albums featuring the South Carolina acts Five Way Friday, Danielle Howle and the Tantrums, Moviestar, and Tootie and the Jones.

DeCurtis, Anthony, and James Henke. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. 3d ed. New York: Random House, 1992.

Smith, Michael B. Carolina Dreams: The Musical Legacy of Upstate South Carolina. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Marshall Tucker Entertainment, 1997.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Rock Music
  • Coverage 1950s –
  • Author
  • Keywords Chubby Checker, the twist, James Brown, James Jamerson, Marshall Tucker Band, Hootie and the Blowfish,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date December 6, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 23, 2022
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