April 29, 2012

In his April 22 Outlook commentary, “The America of ‘Bandstand,’ ” historian Matthew F. Delmont gave us a good account of the racial underpinnings that played out in Philadelphia before Dick Clark was able to hit it big with a television show that influenced the nation’s music, dance and fashion. While Mr. Delmont got the details right, he glossed over the major social contribution Clark made with the music he played: putting black and white songs on the same turntable and seeing what happens. As a white kid growing up in the late 1940s and the early 1950s in suburban Philadelphia I know what happened. The black city kids and the white suburban kids discovered that they had something in common. It was the beat. They liked ours, and we liked theirs. City Line Avenue had finally been crossed.

Sure, “Bandstand” initially kept black kids away from the WFIL studios in West Philly. And, yes, Mr. Clark failed to make any bold move to use “Bandstand” as a social club. But lasting progress is made one small step at a time over many years. Mr. Clark did that as we went from hearing music to seeing it. The sounds became the true integrating force, not the pictures.

If Mr. Clark had been bolder, there is little doubt that his new Channel 6 local show would have been short-lived. The rest is history. We have Dick Clark to thank for making more than music.

David F. Reynolds, Lexington, Va.