Dick Clark, in full Richard Wagstaff Clark, (born November 30, 1929, Bronxville, New York, U.S.—died April 18, 2012, Santa Monica, California), American television personality and businessman, best known for hosting American Bandstand.
Clark was a disc jockey at the student-run radio station at Syracuse University (1951), and he worked at radio and television stations in Syracuse and Utica, New York, before moving in 1952 to WFIL radio in Philadelphia. In 1956 he took over as the host of Bandstand, a popular afternoon program on WFIL-TV on which teenagers danced to records. Largely through Clark’s initiative, Bandstand was picked up by ABC as American Bandstand for nationwide distribution, beginning on August 5, 1957. The program’s mix of lip-synched performances, interviews, and its famous “Rate-a-Record” segment captivated teenagers. Overnight, Clark became one of pop music’s most important tastemakers, as exposure on American Bandstand or his prime-time program, The Dick Clark Show, generated countless hits. Meanwhile, Clark’s business interests grew to include record companies, song publishing, and artist management. When the record industry’s payola scandal (involving payment in return for airplay) broke in 1959, Clark told a congressional committee that he was unaware that performers in whom he had a financial interest had received disproportionate play on his programs. He emerged from the investigation largely unscathed.
In 1963 American Bandstand moved to Saturdays and to Los Angeles, both to follow the shifting centre of the music industry and to allow Clark to broaden his involvement in television production. His Dick Clark Productions began presenting game shows, made-for-TV movies, and variety programs, most successfully The $25,000 Pyramid and TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes. Among the many awards programs the company produced was the American Music Awards, which Clark created. While Clark’s behind-the-scenes business acumen had much to do with the fortune he amassed, he was better remembered for the charming on-air personality and ageless look that allowed him to remain one of television’s most popular hosts and pitchmen, even after American Bandstand went off the air in 1989. At the turn of the 21st century, he remained a fixture on American television as the host of ABC’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. In 1960, during the congressional hearings on payola (money or gifts given by record labels to disc jockeys to air their records), it was revealed that Clark had part ownership of the labels as well as shares in local pressing plants and distribution companies that out-of-town independent labels were allegedly encouraged to use. Under Clark’s patronage several local singers of modest talent emerged as national stars—Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, and Fabian—while a succession of banal dance records, including “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, became hits. There were talented Philadelphia-based musicians untainted by all this—notably John Coltrane, Earl Bostic, and Bill Doggett—but they all recorded elsewhere. It was not until the emergence of producer-songwriters Thom Bell, Kenny Gamble, and Leon Huff later in the 1960s and the tremendous success of Philadelphia International Records in the ’70s that the city could proudly claim its own sound.
Five decasdes after he began shaping the viewing and listening habits of music fans with American Bandstand, Clark, who was often called the “world’s oldest teenager,” continued to profit from the marriage of television and rock and roll, serving as the executive producer of American Dreams (2002–05), a nostalgic dramatic series set in the early 1960s. It focused on a family whose daughter dances on American Bandstand and featured vintage musical performances from the show. In 2007 Dick Clark Productions was sold to Daniel M. Snyder’s RedZone Capital in a $175 million deal.
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