On May 20, 1954, Bill Haley & His Comets released "(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock," a song that would change the sound of American music. It might not have been the first rock ‘n’ roll song, but it’s widely regarded as the song that brought rock to the mainstream.
But what was it about "Rock Around the Clock" that made it such a musical outlier at the time of its release? During the eight-week span of when Haley recorded the song in April 1954 and when it was released on May 20, Perry Como’s crooner ballad "Wanted" was No. 1. Kitty Kallen’s forlorn "Little Things Mean a Lot" was the song of the summer, topping the charts for nine weeks in June and July. And '50s boy band the Crew Cuts closed out the summer with their doo-wop hit "Sh-Boom."
Unfortunately, "Rock Around The Clock" was issued as a B-side to "Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town)" and didn’t pick up much traction upon release. But the following year, the movie Blackboard Jungle (featuring a 28-year-old Sidney Poitier as a rebellious high school student) played the song over its opening credits, and the teenage audience went crazy for it. The song climbed the charts and hit No. 1 in July, taking over from the widely popular instrumental mambo "Cherry Pink (and Apple Blossom White)," by Pérez Prado and His Orchestra. Haley and the Comets had set the rock train in motion, and by the following year, Elvis Presley would cement the nation's obsession with the genre with his string of number 1 hits.
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In music, there are artists, original artists, and then there’s Janelle Monáe. Since breaking out a decade ago with her first album, 2010's The ArchAndroid, Monáe—who was born on December 1, 1985—has seemed unstoppable, pushing the envelope with her astonishing blend of different musical styles, daring fashion sense, and serious acting chops. Bottom line: If Janelle Monáe has a new project, it’s going to be worth checking out. Here are some fascinating facts about the talent behind The Electric Lady.
1. Responding to a fan got Janelle Monáe fired from her job at Office Depot.
Before hitting it big, Monáe paid the bills by working at Office Depot while she was attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. She received an email from a fan and sent a response—on a company computer. She was let go, but the experience inspired her to write the song “Lettin’ Go.”
2. Janelle Monáe is still annoyed about losing the lead in a high school production of The Wiz.
Monaé's talent was clear at a young age. Growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, she won three consecutive Juneteenth talents shows by covering songs from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill each year. However, while Monáe headlined many of her high school's musicals, she lost one major part—Dorothy in The Wiz—because family duty called. Monaé's mom needed to be picked up from work, which meant that the aspiring actress had to leave her audition early. As a result, a fellow classmate got the part; according to Rolling Stone, it's something that still bothers Monáe to this day.
3. Janelle Monáe’s acting career had an animated start.
As if Monáe's music career wasn't impressive enough, she's also shown some serious acting talent in the last several years. Monáe has been a powerful presence in films like Moonlight and Hidden Figures, along with her starring role in the second season of Homecoming. However, her first film appearance was a voice acting role. In the animated sequel Rio 2, Monáe played the aptly named Dr. Monáe, a veterinarian. Her song "What Is Love" was also featured on the film's soundtrack.
4. Janelle Monáe had a close friendship with Prince.
There are countless musicians and artists who can claim the late Prince as an inspiration. Few of them can actually call him a friend. The Purple Rain mastermind championed Monáe and helped guide her creative process. According to Rolling Stone, he was the first person to receive a copy of Monáe's debut studio album, The ArchAndroid, which was delivered with flowers and a handwritten tracklist.
5. Janelle Monáe’s albums have had a narrative thread.
Monáe’s love for science-fiction is quite apparent, based on her discography and expressed fondness for films like Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking silent film Metropolis, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her debut EP, Metropolis: The Chase Suite, and first two studio albums, The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady, each centered around an alter-ego: Cindi Mayweather. This titular "archandroid" was meant to serve as a bridge between humans and robots. During The Electric Lady tour, fans were given pamphlets labeled "The Ten Droid Commandments." The Afrofuturism and sci-fi elements of Monáe's earlier music aren't emphasized as much on her most recent album, Dirty Computer, but the excellent quality is.
6. Janelle Monáe has been honored by Harvard.
Monáe has racked up numerous awards, including an MTV Video Music Award, a Satellite Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, two Soul Train Music Awards, and even more nominations. She also has some serious Ivy League endorsements. In 2014, after headlining Harvard’s annual Yardfest event, Monáe was the first recipient of the award for Achievement in Arts and Media by the Harvard College Women’s Center. That same year, the Harvard Black Men’s Forum named Monáe Woman of the Year.
7. Janelle Monáe pays tribute to her parents through her outfits.
When it comes to her fashion sense, Monáe is known for her daring styles. One of her most iconic looks is a black and white tuxedo. Discussing this on Fresh Air, Monáe said she did this to honor her parents, who had to wear uniforms throughout their work lives. Her mother even worked a catering job with a tuxedo uniform dress code. "So that was one reason why I was constantly wearing the black-and-white tuxedo," she said. "And then I wanted to rebel against the gender norms and what it meant to dress like a woman or what it meant to dress like a man."