Whether it's the smooth sounds of R&B, drumming bass of hip hop or the next-gen sounds of cosmic trap, Black singers of decades past helped forge a path to developing new musical genres. Rock & Roll Man, a new musical, tells the story of how great African American songs of the 1950s were first played on white radio stations by DJ Alan Freed. Black music, a mix of gospel, blue and African spirituals, translated into the pioneering sounds of rock and roll.

Valisa LeKae, AJ Davis, Jamonté, Lawrence Dandridge and Eric B Turner in Rock & Roll Man. Image: Joan Marcus.
Valisa LeKae, AJ Davis, Jamonté, Lawrence Dandridge and Eric B Turner in Rock & Roll Man. Image: Joan Marcus. Photo credit © Joan Marcus (2023)

Rock & Roll Man cast members share with EBONY their favorite timeless songs of the past that still resonate today and can soundtrack your end of summer, including a Little Richard hit that may be the inspiration for Saucy Santana's 'Booty.'

Tutti Frutti - Little Richard

"Tutti Frutti is a timeless bop where the original lyrics were 'Tutti Frutti, good booty!' I love this song because it was created by a black queer man about queer sex! It is such an undeniable queer anthem that it was a bonafide crossover hit in the 1950s and is still beloved today. Tutti Frutti is so iconic that it was covered by Elvis, Pat Boone and even The Chipmunks. But no one lays it down like Little Richard, the innovator, originator, and architect of Rock and Roll!" - Rodrick Covington (Little Richard)

"Jim Dandy" - LaVern Baker

"It’s rare that you come across a song that is so popular that the songwriters decided to make a second version with the same unforgettable groove, beat and sound: 'Jim Dandy to the Rescue' and 'Jim Dandy Got Married!' LaVern Baker doesn’t hold back on either version, and the backup vocals and musicians are just as bluesy and groovy. It was so nice, they made it twice!" - Valisia LeKae (LaVern Baker)

“Shout!” - The Isley Brothers

"Shout! " is the perfect fusion of gospel and blues which rock and roll stands on. It has been covered by other artists numerous times and can still be heard at concerts and weddings today." - AJ Davis (Lead Singer: “Sixty Minute Man”)

'Sh-Boom' - The Chords

"The lyrics, 'Life can be a dream' are so relatable to the world today that we live in. We have political and social issues and all of these different topics that are tough in the world, why not have a moment of just bliss and paradise from above? I think it’s a great, personable and overall optimistically dreamy song.” - Jamonté (Frankie Lymon)

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"- The Platters

Even though it has been around since the 1930s, it's the Platters' 1959 version that catapulted the song to its glory and still amazes today. It fits well in the show because as the lyric suggests, sometimes you are blinded by what you want and lose sight of everything else when something else gets in your eyes!" - Matthew S. Morgan (Screamin' Jay Hawkins / Chuck Berry)

"Lonely Teardrops" - Jackie Wilson

"Not only is he singing his crooner face off, but the chord progressions in the background vocals are everything to me. It’s a beautiful blend of doo-wop and that beach boy, summertime feeling that makes me feel warm while snapping my fingers! All of my senses are satisfied." - Lawrence Dandridge (Ensemble)

"Yakety Yak" - The Coasters

"It’s a song that always lifts spirits and fills the room with joy and everyone always sings along to it. It's straight-up fun!" - Natalie Kaye Clater (Ensemble)

See Rock & Roll Man at New World Stages in New York.