Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

American Bandstand

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American Bandstand (1952-89) was a massively popular music television program with strong Philadelphia roots, storied national success, and the power to shape the music industry and society.  The show epitomized many important aspects of ever-evolving American popular culture: mass communication, popular music, youth culture, dance and fashion trends, as well as race and gender relationships.  Particularly during the show’s prime Philadelphia years (1952-63), Philadelphia youth culture became American culture through American Bandstand.

First called Bandstand, the program premiered October 6, 1952, hosted by Philadelphia radio DJ Bob Horn (1916-66).  It was shot live from Studio B at Forty-Sixth and and Market Streets, where the two-and-a-half-hour show was broadcast regionally on WFIL-TV Channel 6.  Via this network, which advertised itself as “WFIL-adelphia,” the show reached almost six million viewers in the Delaware Valley, the nation’s third-largest market at the time.  Pennants from local high schools lined the walls of American Bandstand’s production studio, emphasizing to viewers and advertisers the show’s local orientation.

Dick Clark surrounded by Philadelphia youngsters in 1957.(Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries.)

Dick Clark (1929-2012) replaced Horn as host in 1956, just before the show was renamed American Bandstand, shortened to ninety minutes, and expanded to a national ABC audience on August 5, 1957.  The show then aired at 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, corresponding with the typical school day’s end.  American Bandstand was an immediate success, with an estimated audience of twenty million viewers.

From its earliest days, the show featured young people dancing to a rock-and-roll soundtrack or other popular genres of the day.  This included dances the Bop, the Twist, the Jitterbug, and the Stroll.  The show also incorporated appearances by acts like Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, and Connie Francis, who would lip-sync performances.  Being featured on the show all but guaranteed a spike in popularity; even before it moved to a national platform American Bandstand offered a remarkably large audience base for musicians, often generating national popular demand for a new group or single.  Another component of the show was its Rate-a-Record segment—where people evaluated a record on a scale of 35 to 98—which originated the saying, “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.”  For this era’s music industry, American Bandstand was arguably the most significant television venue in the country.

Local Teens as National Celebrities

Throughout its Philadelphia years, the show was so popular that it transformed average local-area teens into national celebrities.  On each broadcast day the line of teens hoping to appear on the show snaked around the block; some were granted entry and others denied.  In order to help establish a clean-cut image for the show, guys were required to wear ties with suit jackets or sweaters, while girls dressed in “good taste,” for example a high-cut blouse with a dress or skirt.  Clark felt such conventions helped boost the perception of rock-and-roll, which in the 1950s was a controversial genre often disliked by older generations.

Several teens belonged to a select group of taste-making gatekeepers who helped monitor dress code and admission.  Clark and producer Tony Mammorella (1924-1977) dubbed this group “The Committee,” led from 1954 to 1956 by future DJ Jerry Blavat.  Such white Philadelphia-area teens (many from South Philadelphia or near the show’s production site in West Philadelphia), among others, regularly appeared on American Bandstand.  Many subsequently became celebrities (albeit temporarily), appearing in other media, receiving fan mail, and starting fashion trends.  Many of the show’s female dancers wore Peter Pan collars—a feature of their Catholic school uniforms—and at one point this even sparked a nationwide trend imitating the look.  

Racial Influences

Arguably, American Bandstand both contributed to racial integration and supported racial segregation.  For instance, the show’s producers allegedly practiced discriminatory policies that excluded or limited appearances by African American teen dancers, presumably to appease advertisers.  In the early years of American Bandstand, African Americans were rarely seen on television.  However, musicians such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Sam Cooke all made national appearances on American Bandstand during the late 1950s.  Conceivably, this helped promote racial equality and intercultural understanding. 

Over the decades, American Bandstand’s location, air days, duration, and content changed.  The program moved production in 1964 from Philadelphia to Hollywood, months after it began airing once per week.  In its later years the show was challenged by the diversifying tastes of fragmented audiences.  As music styles evolved, American Bandstand incorporated more emerging genres.  Throughout its run the show featured various types of popular music, such as rock-and-roll, R&B, Motown, British rock, psychedelic rock, disco, new wave, and more.

Despite changes over the years, the show continued to embody and represent evolutions in American music, fashion, dance, and other sociocultural norms.  Still, American Bandstand’s Philadelphia years are recalled with particularly impassioned nostalgia.  Emphasizing this sentiment, Philadelphian John Oates (of musical duo Hall & Oates) said, “The show had such an impact on the music business, it set the tone and the pace for teenage style and attitude and everything else across America.”

Jordan McClain is Assistant Teaching Professor of Communication at Drexel University.  Amanda McClain is Assistant Professor of Communications at Holy Family University.

Copyright 2012, Rutgers University

Related Reading

Clark, Dick, and Richard Robinson. Rock, Roll and Remember. New York: Popular Library, 1976.

Delmont, Matthew. “Making Philadelphia Safe for ‘WFIL-adelphia’: Television, Housing, and Defensive Localism in Postwar Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History, 38, no. 1 (2012): 89-113.

Delmont, Matthew F.  The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Shore, Michael, with Dick Clark. The History of American Bandstand. New York: Ballantine, 1985.

Talevski, Nick. Rock Obituaries: Knocking on Heaven’s Door. London: Omnibus Press, 2006.


Lew Klein Papers and Evening Bulletin Photographs Collection, Special Collections Research Center of Temple University Libraries, Samuel L. Paley Library,  1210 Polett Walk, Philadelphia.

Museum of Broadcast Communication, 360 N. State Street, Chicago, Ill.

The Paley Center for Media, 25 W. Fifty-Second Street, New York, N.Y.

Places to Visit

American Bandstand Historic Marker, 4601 Market Street, Philadelphia.

21 Comments Comments

  1. Never saw a black youth on bandstand until the twist started w/ chubby checker. The twist made everyone want to watch BS. This was the newest dance and everyone wanted to see and do it !!!

    dave Posted April 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm
  2. A very comprehensive description of American Bandstand and its impact on the culture. We rushed home from school, turned on American Bandstand and watched with a critical eye for every detail… what they wore, how they danced, how they looked into the camera, who hogged the camera, etc. We were relentless; often, professing to stop watching it. There you would find us day after day, listening and imitating the stars of American Bandstand. How cool were we!!!

    JACKIE WEBER Posted April 22, 2012 at 2:53 pm
  3. Tell us more about crazy legs Tom Davis

    kay ek Posted February 9, 2013 at 11:59 pm
  4. I was there when Bob Horn was host. Any photos?

    kathrynboggi Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:36 pm
  5. I was born in 64 and remember mom watching American Bandstand what seemed like everyday when I was about 5 – 7yrs old. While I’m obviously too young to have been in my teens during it’s hay day, I live for music and often wished I was born a decade earlier so I could’ve enjoyed the show during its earlier, more influential time.

    Howie Brown

    Howie Brown Posted August 22, 2014 at 4:49 pm
  6. My friends and I went to B/S when Bob Horn was the host .
    When I got home I caught hell from my Mom as my kid
    brother said Mommy Rita is on dancing on TV when I was
    Suppose to be looking for a part time job oh well we had a ball


    Rita Posted December 31, 2014 at 11:20 pm
  7. I was in the NAVY station in Phila and used to go down to American bandstand all the time. Even went to some school dances with American bandstand people. This was in the late part of 60.

    al moser Posted February 28, 2015 at 8:47 pm
  8. “Let’s Go To The Hop”

    Donna Stueve Posted April 9, 2015 at 6:51 pm
  9. I need help. While in high school I remember going into New York City with a boy from school who was invited to play on the Dick Clark Show with his band. I know we were dancing as they did on American Bandstand. I, along with three other girls, was asked to model clothes from Macy’s to show their fall fashion line. My friend was asked to return and we went again. There is no mention of the show being recorded from NYC, but I know I was there. Can anyone help me with this?

    Diana J. Schaefe Posted April 12, 2015 at 6:38 pm
  10. I remember Bob Horn ‘s show well. My sisters used to dance in the living rm with the rug rolled up. Sometimes they would bring their girlfriends, and dance . I liked watching one was a hot Italian girl can’t remember her name, Margareet very pretty. Always trying to get her to notice me.

    Bool Posted February 10, 2016 at 9:57 pm
  11. I used to dance on Philadelphia Bandstand in 1957…I also went to the berwyne skating rink out on lancaster pike as I went to school in Wayne Pa. the great main line…..We used to carry Dick’s records into the rink on fridays when he had the sock hops..I was there in 1957 when Paul Anka was the guest singing his big hit Diana..Paul was only 16 ha ha,i was 17…We took the train in from wayne to dance on the show…..
    I danced there about 15 times with my suit and tie and the gal I danced with became a nun,but she could dance…Does anyone remember the date that Paul was there the first time doing Diana..I’m 76 now ,still dance and i’m a good keyboard player and performed the last 58 years and still do….That show got me interested in music…Loved Bandstand and Dick Clark,so much history…
    In fact I have worked with Freddy Bell and the bell boys in Vegas,Reno and Lake Tahoe..he passed away a few years ago but he was the house band on the original bandstand with Bob Horn….Who remembers that!!!!!!!

    brandon paul new Posted April 21, 2016 at 3:18 pm
  12. When Bob Horn introduced Bandstand the teen dancers were diversified. The parents were outraged and sought every means to have him removed from TV from political harassment to law enforcement. Dick Clark their gentile in “white shining armor” arrived on the scene and stopped the mixing of African-Americans and gentiles dancing on the show. Those in involved in the segregation is most likely deceased but Jerry Blavit is well aware of the racial divide.
    Grady and Hurst had “Summer Time on the Pier” in Atlantic City a diversified group of dancers, “Twinkle Toes” Took Miller, African-American from South Jersey was the premier dancer, still residing in Camden off Marlton Pike and Baird Blvd.

    Aaron Steinberg Posted May 12, 2016 at 4:48 am
  13. With due respect to Mr.Steinberg,I was born and raised 13 blocks ( 58th and Race st.) from Bandstand’s studioB.,watched the show everyday after school, from 10/7/52 until it moved to California. I can safely say that I never missed an “airing.”I stood in line, at least 10 times and got in twice. Bob Horn was nice but, if there was any “diversification” in the dancers, I never saw it! The one who went “out of his way” to make any black kid’s visit to the show, as “unpleasant” as possible, was”Lee stewart” ( if that was his real name) of “Madman Muntz”fame and as he was a cousin of staff announcer Shelly Gross, I’m relatively certain, that he wasn’t a gentile! “Summertime on the pier”,was a totally different experience. The dancers were indeed, “diversified.”I knew “Took” Miller personally, he was a wonderful dancer and very nice guy!

    Ellis Small Posted August 13, 2016 at 3:46 pm
  14. “The show’s producers allegedly practiced discriminatory policies that excluded or limited appearances by African American teen dancers…”

    This is not an allegation. It’s true. I am in my 60s and remember watching Bandstand every afternoon. Although I was too young, I wanted to dance on the show and would ask my mom how come no Black teens were on the show. Later, in the early 60s before it moved, you began to see a few Black teens, but the camera rarely focused on them.

    I agree with Ellis. Don’t whitewash the history. On the other hand, Summertime on the Pier and Ed Hurst’s dance show at the Aquarama in South Philly was open to everyone from the beginning.

    Marilyn Kai Jewett Posted October 25, 2016 at 11:19 pm
  15. @Donna J. Schaefe (whose comment was posted April 12, 2015 @6:38p:

    The “Dick Clark Show” that originated from New York City was not “American Bandstand,” but a weekly (Saturday nights, to be exact) show called the “Dick Clark Beech-Nut Show.” As the title implied, it was sponsored by Beech-Nut-and Beech-Nut gum in particular. This show, also on ABC, aired from 1958 to 1960, during which “American Bandstand” still originated from Philly during the week.

    David Posted May 12, 2018 at 3:17 pm
  16. @Marilyn Kai Jewett

    As were, from what I can tell, Jerry Blavat’s dances and his “American Bandstand”-like TV shows “The Discophonic Scene” (on Channel 10 and later also syndicated) and “Jerry’s Place” (on Channel 6) open to everyone since day one (of at least either).

    “American Bandstand” was integrated WHEN IT STILL ORIGINATED FROM PHILLY? I always thought that the show didn’t integrate until it moved to Hollywood!

    David Posted May 12, 2018 at 3:23 pm
  17. No mention of Arlene’s Sullivan’s Book?…….She mentions quite a few dancers and friends such as Kenny Rossi………I went to West Catholic, 1958 into the 60’s and it was the talk!…………she also gave me a copy of her book………Thank’s Arlene!

    frank e whalen Posted October 27, 2018 at 6:59 pm
  18. What many of us did after school in my small CA town of Moorpark was to race home after school to watch AB. My first 45 rpm record purchase was, “Million To One”. It cost 98-cents. We loved the music and the singers/groups of the day. The names are classic and too many to mention! The 1950s had the best teen love songs. I can recall slow dancing with my head resting on my boyfriend’s shoulder. That symbolized we were a couple. The issue of lack of racial diversity is sadly true and mirrored the society we lived in then. Ironically, think about how much Black music has actually defined and shaped the sounds and styles of contemporary music. I love this “look back” at AB.

    Bev K Posted November 17, 2018 at 2:02 am
  19. You all can register for a Facebook Group that covers the Philly Bandstand Era. .Fantastic photos and some film clips. Many of the original regulars are members and they lend commentary ,although some are not, and many have passed away. They even had a televised reunion dance on Berks County Community TV last July.About 25 Philly regulars attended,even a few from the Bob Horne era. The regulars are as popular today among viewers as they were back in those glorious days.

    Richard Posted October 16, 2019 at 1:07 am
  20. I remember watching “Am. Bandstand every chance I could. Some of the teen-agers got fan mail. I remeber Bob and Justine, Kenny and Arlene(i think) , great dancers. I wonder what ever became of them. Dick Clark was great.

    jean finch Posted June 29, 2020 at 3:33 pm
  21. Born in ’51,my Mom declared that the Mickey Mouse Club was invented so she could make dinner while her #3 son,me,would stay quiet in front of our tiny screen big furniture TV in the Philly suburbs. Before MMC,Bandstand,with Dick Clark in charge. Some songs on the radio sounded like a female voice taking a solo. Here,when a group lip-synched on Bandstand,it was a black male singing falsetto. Some things mixed in my mind. Johnny Carson’s Who Do You Trust game show,a ripoff of Groucho Marx’ quiz/interview show,seemed to come on before Bandstand. Some say it came on in the middle of Bandstand. MMC came on @ 5PM and Bandstand continued after till 6PM. In Philly,time for Sally Starr(1923-2013) hosting Three Stooges and Popeye cartoons till the 7PM news. So,by accident, I listened to lots of Top 40 hits in the ’50s,waiting for Annette.
    Fun fact, Ed McMahon,Johnny’s sidekick on the quiz show and Dick Clark resided as neighbors in Drexelbrook,an apartment/middle-class country club set from the Philly ‘burbs,which included a pool & ice skating rink. Clark’s TV pool and skating parties were taped there. Clark worked for WFIL(part of the Annenberg holdings of TV,radio,newspapers and magazines,especially TV Guide). McMahon worked for WCAU,a CBS affiliate,commuting to NYC for the game show on ABC. All true? Probably,but some gaps in need of certification.

    James Posted January 2, 2021 at 4:56 pm

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  1. […] My music basically comes from the ‘60’s and growing up in the Philly area we were privy to Dick Clark and “American Bandstand”. […]

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