Rockin’ My Birthday or How My Sister Got Her Nickname frutti

“Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam bam” screamed Little Richard as he began the new year with his first ever pop hit, “Tutti’ Frutti”. Two weeks later, on my 8th birthday, January 28, 1956, a less frantic cover of that song would enter the pop charts by Pat Boone. After that, Elvis Presley would also record it, but Pat Boone’s mellower version would win out in popularity.

Rock & Roll was being embraced by teens, pre-teens, and parents alike due to wholesome, well groomed, polite Pat Boone. Although Pat Boone, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley had come on scene at the same time, Elvis, with his swiveling hips and suggestive leer, was not the singer parents wanted their children to be exposed to, and his performance was too close to black R&B. Little Richard, well, he was black R&B. Both Elvis and Pat wanted to claim the sound of the black R&B culture for their own, popularizing a form of music which otherwise might never have gained widespread acceptance. The parents liked Pat Boone, as he polished rock’s rough edges away, making songs like “Tutti’ Frutti” palatable to those raised on the soothing songs of a vanishing era.

Howard and Armetta and their four baby boomers, Denny, Kathy, Janice, and Jimmy, were living in a house Howard built on Barnes Street. Our home had oak hardwood floors that my Dad had coated and buffed to a hard, slippery, sheen – perfect for sock skating down the hall.

This would be the year that Denny Pewsey and all of America would discover rock & roll. Elvis Presley charted his first pop hit in March with 16 more hits this year. Pat Boone had charted 15 hits. Instigators of the rock & roll revolution would be the Platters, Carl Perkins, Fats Domino, Bill Haley and His Comets, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Johnny Cash, Little Willie John, The Five Satins, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, The Coasters. These artists provided the first sampling of rock & roll to tickle the AM airwaves!

Dad & Mom, being parents of four kids, eight and under, could have been too old for the novelty of rock and roll. Apparently unaware of the consequences, when the rise of rock & roll was viewed as a sign of the apocalypse, they introduced it to the family with much enthusiasm. Dad brought records home one payday Friday night. This was something new and we watched as Dad took the shiny black disc out of the paper sleeve and put the needle on the record! Neat! Well, Pat Boone’s top ten ballad, “I’ll Be Home”, was putting me to bed early –“ yawn”. But wait… Dad played the flip side and a sound came out of the phonograph that got my fingers popping. Janice, my two and a half year old sister, was dancing, waving her arms and jumping, “play it again Mommy!”, she squealed. Multiple replays set us kids on our glorious hardwood sock hop in the hallway, dancing and sliding. Janice, with her naturally curly brown hair bouncing ferociously, started belting the song out like a future rock star:

Wop-bop-a-loom-a-boom-bam-boom tutti frutti
au rutti tutti frutti au rutti tutti frutti
au rutti tutti frutti au rutti tutti frutti
au rutti wop-bop-a-loom-bop-a-boom-bam-boom

Could lyrics be anymore prophetic. There it is…my first experience with the power and excitement of Rock & Roll.

Now, as to how my sister got her nickname. Mom & Dad had originally had Jane picked out for their new daughter, but my Dad said he didn’t want his little girl to be called a “Plain Jane”. Mom compromised coming up with Janice. My Dad agreed but was not enthused with the name Janice, as it sounded too close to Janet, their sister-in-law. Janice it was, until she gleeful sang over and over, with Dad calling back to her “tutti frutti, tutti frutti!” Dad had finally found the name he really liked for his little girl, shortened to simply, “Tootie”.


About Sumcensuvitt

Training for the Boston Marathon 2014 View all posts by Sumcensuvitt

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