The Day the Music Died

I actually met Dick Clark. I was an executive at a company when Dick agreed to be the MC at our sales meeting. I attended two cocktail parties with Dick and had the opportunity to speak to him for some period of time. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that “off duty” he was exactly the same person we all watched on TV–a kind and humble man. At the sales meeting several women broke with protocol and ran onto the stage to have a picture taken with the entertainment icon.

That was fun and a great surprise! But what I have never forgotten is that after a friend clicked the picture, Dick turned to each woman and said “Thank you” to her. I could tell that he meant it, too!

By now you have probably read a number of remembrances of Dick Clark. Born into a middle-class family, he began his sixty-year career in the late 1940s as a radio DJ. In the 1950s he was offered the job of MC on a local TV show that featured young people dancing to pop songs. Within just a few years he had taken the show national and it quickly became one of the most popular shows ever aired on television. Because Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” ran for thirty-two years, millions of kids from several generations grew up watching the very same show—thus, we all remember hustling home from school just in time to watch “Bandstand.”

The impact of Dick Clark upon our popular culture is in many ways subsumed by the longevity of his career. I recall watching a documentary about Franklin D. Roosevelt. Having served as President into his fourth term, upon his death in 1945 there were many Americans who had known no other. Like FDR, Dick Clark didn’t stop with his one “term” on “American Bandstand,” he didn’t only MC the yearly award celebrations in the music industry, he went on to create his own award shows that became important to both pop and country music. He did not merely host TV quiz shows; he developed and honed shows like “The $10,000 Pyramid”–which with inflation grew into a $100,000 version. He not only came up with and realized visionary ideas, but he knew how to monetize them effectively. Wow! What a contribution he made!

Dick Clark’s life provides several lessons really worth hanging onto. There may have never been a better practitioner of “change management” than Dick Clark. Like all great leaders, he not only didn’t want to be left behind–he wanted to bring about changes that motivated others in the business to keep up with him. He was the Steve Jobs of the entertainment industry!

Having transformed the pop culture of several generations is nothing less than amazing. Any list or outline of what Dick thought was demanded and then what he did to be successful over three generations would no doubt be tagged with half the letters in the alphabet. And in accomplishing so many healthy and entertaining things, Dick Clark never fell behind the trends resulting from the epochal societal and cultural changes that occurred in the last half of the 20th century.

There is much to be said in any undertaking for keeping your eyes and ears open, but in Dick Clark’s case it was more than that. He understood that the most effective way to stay current, to adapt to tsunami-like change (and rate of change) is to help fashion the change itself.

His actions teach us that we must constantly reinvent ourselves. Clark inventoried his skill sets, realistically viewed and then assessed how the world was wired, what the future portended, and created new and unique ways for fitting those new concepts and creations into his own vision. Most important, he could see himself and his creations co-existing.

Many individuals and companies make a mistake in thinking that almost every decision needs to be an either/or decision, and it is true that when trying to create a new life or business opportunity some focus is required. But the need for focus doesn’t mean that when you come upon other interests and opportunities, you have to fold up the tent in which you currently exist. It’s not always either/or—it’s often and/and.

Think about it: even after he endured a crippling stroke that took away his ability to speak—this blow coming down on a man who had had, ironically, one of the most recognizable and golden-sounding voices on the planet–he came back to usher in another New Year. But is that surprising? When asked for his secret to success Dick Clark said that his greatest life lesson was to understand that we will all fall occasionally when pursuing our dreams… “but if you fall, get up and walk, and if you can’t walk, crawl.” In his great, middle-class American way, “No quitting!” was the creative energy that drove Dick Clark to show us all how to excel!

About Santo Costa

Sandy Costa is an internationally respected speaker and business leader. Check out Sandy’s website at
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