Clemons, Bruce Bridged Rock's Racial Divide

E Street Band opposites overcame a segregated genre
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2011 1:59 PM CDT
Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen Bridged Rock's Racial Divide
Clarence Clemons.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – When America lost Clarence Clemons, it "lost an ideal." In the pairing of "Southern Baptist black" with "Jersey Shore white," Bruce Springsteen and Clemons gave life to "a cultural example of how the divides of race can come together over music," writes Timothy Egan in the New York Times. The two of them “projected a kind of joy that made it easy to believe that this mess of a country could get along." Rock once had many African-American stars—Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix—but "whites basically stole the genre," observes Egan.

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And when British bands and California surfer boys began to dominate the scene, rock's "black, bluesy edge" fell by the wayside. The result? These days, “the most segregated place in America on a given night can be a stadium rock concert—on stage, and in the audience.” But “playing off of Clemons, Springsteen could always turn one of his concerts into a spiritual revival from the Church of Rock ’n’ Roll. It was a nod to the roots of the music, as well as the 6-foot-4 sideman,” Egan writes. “And for someone from a homogenous background, it was transformative.” (Read more Clarence Clemons stories.)

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