From our vantage point, the late Fifties look like a very fertile time for black pop music, with such artists as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino all at their peaks, plus too many doo-wop groups to count. But as James "Mr. Jimmy" Miller points out in his book Flowers in the Dustbin, only four black acts had Number One hits from the dawn of the rock era in 1955 through the end of 1958: Sam Cooke, with "You Send Me," Johnny Mathis, with "Chances Are," Tommy Edwards, with "It's All in the Game," and the Platters, who had three Number Ones with "The Great Pretender," "My Prayer," and "Twilight Time."
I thought Miller might have been cooking the books a little with his cutoff date there, and sure enough, 1959 kicked off with back-to-back Number Ones by African Americans: The Platters with "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and Lloyd Price with "Stagger Lee." But the only other black artist to register a Number One in the rest of '59 was Wilbert Harrison with "Kansas City." (Actually, I should admit I have no idea what race Santo and Johnny were; their last name was Farina, which probably makes them Italian.) Similarly, 1960 had only three such chart-toppers. Not till Ray Charles and, then, Motown did black music really take over.
It took a long time for white people, I guess, to fully acquiesce to the kind of music that black people were making, even though, from our vantage point, it was some of the most exciting pop music of its time. Or any other time.
For the record (get it?), Fats' biggest hit was "Blueberry Hill," which went to Number Two in 1956; Little Richard's was "Long Tall Sally," which hit Number Six in 1956; Chuck Berry's was "Sweet Little Sixteen," which reached Number Two in 1958, leaving aside his inexplicable "My Ding-a-Ling" from 1972. Don't feel too bad for them: Neither Bob Dylan nor Bruce Springsteen has had a Number One hit, either.