Melissa Phruksachart

Melissa Phruksachart is Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University. She received her PhD in English from the CUNY Graduate Center in 2016. Her research examines economies of Asian American presence in transnational U.S entertainment and media cultures; in particular, American television of the high Cold War. She has published work in Amerasia Journal, Feminist Media Studies, and Camera Obscura.

“The Rocky Fellers: Doo-Wop’s ‘Little Brown Brothers’”
Before the Jackson Five, there were the Rocky Fellers. The Filipino-American rock ’n’ roll family act was composed of Doroteo “Moro” Maligmat and his four school-age sons, Junior, Tony, Albert, and Eddie. Like other doo-wop groups, they performed in identical sequined dinner jackets and bow ties, and their songs were mainly covers of already-successful rock and R&B hits like “Long Tall Sally,” “Lonely Teardrops,” and “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.” During their short-lived career, the Rocky Fellers would publicize their music by performing on programs such as The Jack Benny Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, and The Jackie Gleason Show. My presentation studies two musical performances the Rocky Fellers made on U.S. variety shows to inquire into how the Rocky Fellers mediated black music for white American Cold War audiences through their brown Filipino bodies. How did the Rocky Fellers’ appearance as “little brown brothers” — the paternalistic neocolonial term used by the U.S. to refer to Filipinos — interface with the pop music industry’s racializing conditions? In other words, as Filipino performers, how did the Rocky Fellers momentarily interrupt and mediate the practice of white artists stealing black music?
I argue that the Filipino boy provides the conditions of possibility for illustrating the gulf between 1956 and 1962, in which black artistic expression from rock ’n’ roll would increasingly enter mainstream white consciousness. Drawing on the vocal talent of their youngest son, Albert Maligmat, the Rocky Fellers suggested to white audiences that rock music could be soulful yet innocent — less suggestive, and more joyous, than syrupy puppy love songs sang by white men in their twenties. As children, they were less tainted by sexuality than their adult counterparts; at the same time, their brownness allowed them to do things on television that white children could not do: sing rock ’n’ roll. Later in the 1960’s, the British Invasion would allow white audiences a different engagement with black music. By replacing imitative brown bodies like the Rocky Fellers, respectable white dandies like Pat Boone, and Southern bad boys like Elvis, the Beatles and Rolling Stones would re-route black music into the mainstream United States through the side door of Britain.