This Day In History: March 26

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On March 26, 1955, white pop singer Georgia Gibbs scores a hit with “Dance With Me Henry (Wallflower),” setting off a dubious trend in the music industry known as “whitewashing.”

For its time, the mid-1950s, the lyrical phrase “You got to roll with me, Henry” was considered risqué just as the very label “rock and roll” was understood to have a sexual connotation. The line comes from an Etta James record originally called “Roll With Me Henry” and later renamed “The Wallflower.” Already a smash hit on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues chart, it became a pop hit in the spring of 1955—but not for James. Gibbs re-recorded the song with “toned-down” lyrics.

In addition to replacing “Roll” with “Dance,” Gibbs' version omitted lines like “If you want romancin/You better learn some dancin,'” and changed the rhythmic and vocal stylings. And while many Americans might have preferred the Etta James version to the Georgia Gibbs cover had they heard the two in succession, they would rarely have the opportunity to do so. Pop radio was almost exclusively white radio in 1955 America, and middle-of-the-road Black artists like Nat “King” Cole and the Ink Spots were rare exceptions to this rule.

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