In the mid 1950s, two young white men began their successful musical careers by bringing the sound of black rhythm-and-blues music to predominantly white mainstream-pop audiences. Both were steeped in religion and gospel music as boys, and both were raised in the segregated South, but one important barrier separated them in childhood: a set of railroad tracks. On the "wrong" side of the tracks in Tupelo, Mississippi, lived Elvis Presley, who would go on to become the King of Rock and Roll. On the "right" side in Nashville, Tennessee, lived Pat Boone, who would briefly rival Presley in terms of chart success, though in a style that never strayed from the conservative mainstream. On this day in 1957, in a year most people now associate with the music of early rockers like Elvis, the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, Pat Boone earned the second of his three career #1 hits when "April Love" topped the Billboard pop chart.
The gentle ballad "April Love" was the theme song from a long-forgotten 1957 film of the same name, starring Pat Boone as a delinquent kid from the rough streets of Chicago who finds true love on his uncle's Kentucky farm in the form of the neighbor's daughter, played by a young Shirley Jones. It was Boone's second film of the year, after Bernardine, and its theme song topped the charts just three weeks after the somewhat more raucous title tune from Elvis Presley's third film, Jailhouse Rock.
Fully embraced by mainstream media and advertisers, Pat Boone had just become the host of ABC Television's The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom variety show when "April Love" began its climb up the charts. From that point forward in Boone's hugely successful 1950s career, he continued to sing primarily mainstream ballads like "April Love" and his first #1 hit, "Love Letters In The Sand." Boone's breakthrough, however, had come in performing very different material: cover versions of black R&B hits that received little play on mainstream pop radio. While Boone was far from the only performer to engage in what critics would soon refer to as the "whitewashing" of raw R&B originals, he was one of the most successful at doing so. In fact, Pat Boone's earliest top-10 hits included cover versions of Fats Domino's "Ain't That A Shame" (1955) and Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" and "Tutti Frutti" (both 1956). In the case of "Ain't That A Shame" and "Tutti Frutti," Pat Boone's cover versions charted higher than the originals.