About the Holiday
National Disc Jockey Day commemorates the death of Albert James Freed, or Moondog, who was an influential disc jockey in the 1950s and is credited with popularizing the term “rock-and-roll.” The idea of using recorded music instead of live performances over the airwaves was tested in 1909, when sixteen-year-old Ray Newby, a student of Charles “Doc” Herrold at Herrold College of Engineering and Wireless in San Fernando, California, became the first to play records on the radio. The idea took off and soon radio broadcasters across the country followed suit. The term Disc Jockey was the brainstorm of radio commentator Walter Winchell in 1934. The 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of Hip-Hop DJs who began using multiple turntables and turntables as instruments to change the music.
When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc & the Creation of Hip Hop
Written by Laban Carrick Hill | Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III
Even as a child “Clive loved music”—all kinds of music. He loved the way it made him feel inside and “the way it made his feet go hip hip hop, hippity hop.” Clive lived on Somerset Lane in Kingston, Jamaica. One of his neighbors was a DJ nicknamed “King George,” who threw the “biggest and baddest” house parties every Saturday night. Clive was too young for parties, but he liked to watch King George and his crew setting up. Clive had never seen so many records in one place.
“Clive imagined himself as a DJ surrounded by all those records.” He longed to choose just the right one to get the party started. He pictured himself toasting—rapping over the instrumental B side of records and getting people’s feet going hip hip hop, hippity hop, like his did. When Clive was thirteen he moved to Brooklyn, New York with his mom. At first he wasn’t sure he liked his new neighborhood, but then he discovered sports—track, weightlifting, and especially basketball. Clive grew to be six feet, 5 inches tall.
He took to calling “himself ‘cool as Clyde’ after his favorite basketball player, Walt Clyde Frazier.” But to the other kids, Clive was “Hercules.” Clive shortened it to Herc and added “‘Kool’ to make it just right. Kool Herc.” Because of his size, he was able to go to house parties with his mother and listen to the music. One day Kool Herc’s father bought a “giant sound system” with six-foot-tall speakers. But when it was turned on, the sound was puny. Kool Herc worked on it until the sound came blasting out.
Kool Herc and his younger sister Cindy were ready to put on a party. They rented a rec room in their housing project, posted invitations, and set up the huge sound system. The night of the party, “everybody who was anybody made their way to Sedgewick Avenue for Kool Herc’s hot dance party. That’s when Kool Herc became DJ Kool Herc.”
DJ Kool Herc noticed that people danced harder during the instrumental breaks. Kool Herc set up another turntable and put the same record on this turntable too. This way, when one record ended its break, he could play it again on the other. He was able to stretch a ten-second break into 20 minutes or more. Remembering how DJs toasted in Jamaica, DJ Kool Herc began shouting out the names of his friends, compliments about the dancers, and rhymes over the beat.
Over the next year, DJ Kool Herc moved his dance parties into the street. When he plugged the sound system into the street lamps, it pulled so much power, the lights dimmed. DJ Kool Herc’s music even turned some of the city’s gang members into the smoothest break dancers in the neighborhood. Kool Herc then invited friends to rap behind the DJ-ing. He called these friends the “Master of Ceremonies” or MCs.
Soon kids were coming from all over New York city to attend DJ Kool Herc’s “biggest, baddest dance parties.” Many “wanted to be DJs just like Kool Herc. Herc didn’t just rock the block. He put the hip hip hop, hippity hop into the world’s heartbeat.”
Laben Carrick Hill’s modern biography of a Hip Hop pioneer invites young readers to discover the early years of and influences on the music they love today. Hill superbly structures his story so through the formative details of DJ Kool Herc’s life from childhood into adulthood, readers understand that they too can follow their hearts to achieve their dreams. When the Beat Was Born is inspirational in its depiction of an “ordinary kid” with ingenuity and self-confidence who changed the face of music by combining his multicultural experiences, being open to experimentation, including his friends, and sharing his vision. Straightforward storytelling is punctuated with verses of rap that make reading aloud fun and will engage listeners.
In his bold, vibrant illustrations, Theodore Tayler III lets kids in on the not-so-distant past that saw the rise of Hip Hop music, celebrity DJs, and new dance styles. Keeping the focus on DJ Kool Herc—just as Clive kept his eye on his future goals—Taylor reinforces the theme of the book. Scenes of kids lining up to attend DJ Kool Herc’s parties and dancing in the street give the book an inclusive feel. Images of skyscraper-tall stacks of records mirrors Kool Herc’s ambitions, and depictions of breakdancing moves will get kids wanting to try them for themselves.
When the Beat Was Born is a terrific biography for all children, whether they like music and dancing or quieter pursuits. In the classroom, the book would be a great addition to music, history, or biography units.
Ages 6 – 10
Roaring Brook Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-1596435407
Discover more about Laben Carrick Hill and his books on his website
To view a portfolio of artwork, book illustration, videos and more by Theodore Taylor III, visit his website.
National Disc Jockey Day Activity
Groovy Record Chalkboard & Bulletin Board
Do you play the piano or another instrument? Would you like to make a record some day? Why wait? In this fun craft you can create your own record bulletin board—and even create your own label art! While this record may not spin on turntables around the world, it will drop in a more important place—your very own room!
- Printable Record Label for you to design
- Foam board, or a corkboard at least 12-inches x 12-inches square
- Adhesive cork
- A 12-inch round plate, record, or other round object to trace OR a compass
- Chalkboard paint, black
- X-acto knife
- Paint brush or foam paint brush
- Mounting squares
- Cut a section from the adhesive cork a little larger than 12 inches by 12 inches
- Affix the cork to the foam board
- Trace the 12-inch round object onto the cork/foam board OR use the compass to make a 12-inch circle
- With the x-acto knife, carefully cut out the circle (adult help needed for children)
- Cut out a ¼ -inch circle in the center of the record bulletin board
- Paint the cork, sides and inside the spindle hole with the black chalkboard paint. Let dry
- Print the label template and design your own record label
- When the paint is dry, glue your label to the center of the bulletin board
- Hang your bulletin board with the mounting squares
Picture Book Review