The phrase "rocking and rolling" originally described the movement of a ship on the ocean, but it was used by the early 20th century, both to describe a spiritual fervor and as a sexual analogy.
Various gospel, blues and swing recordings used the phrase before it became used more frequently – but still intermittently – in the late 1930s and 1940s, principally on recordings and in reviews of what became known as "rhythm and blues" music aimed at black audiences.
In 1951, Cleveland-based disc jockey Alan Freed began playing this music style while popularizing the term "rock and roll" to describe it.
The alliterative phrase "rocking and rolling" originally was used by mariners at least as early as the 17th century to describe the combined "rocking" (fore and aft) and "rolling" (side to side) motion of a ship on the ocean.
Tharpe performed the song in the style of a city blues, with secular lyrics, ecstatic vocals and electric guitar.
The following year, Western swing musician Buddy Jones recorded "Rockin' Rollin' Mama", which drew on the term's original meaning – "Waves on the ocean, waves in the sea/ But that gal of mine rolls just right for me/ Rockin' rollin' mama, I love the way you rock and roll".
Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in the United States in the early to mid-1950s.Hardin subsequently sued Freed on grounds that he was stealing his name, and because Freed was no longer allowed to use the term Moondog, he needed a new catchphrase.