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Catholic Life Features

175 Flashback: Bishop Burke asks that we not Twist again


The Diocese of Buffalo has seen its ups and downs over the past 175 years. But who can remember when a dance craze seemed to be the biggest threat to Christian morality?

Bishop Joseph A. Burke, ninth bishop of Buffalo

In 1960, Chubby Checker had a number 1 hit with “The Twist,” an R&B song that launched a dance craze thanks to Dick Clark and “American Bandstand.”  

The one person not joining in on the fun was Buffalo Bishop Joseph Burke, who essentially banned the song from the diocese.

Calling the song and accompanying dance impure, and saying it lacked a proper sense of decorum and good taste, Bishop Burke prohibited all Catholics from performing the dance. This action earned Bishop Burke the dubious nickname “Bishop Buzzkill” in 1962.

On January 26, 1962, Bishop Joseph A. Burke made his thoughts clear in a statement released to Catholic schools, that read:

His Excellency, the Most Rev. Joseph A. Burke, bishop of Buffalo, has directed the Department of Education of the Diocese of Buffalo, to communicate with all schools, elementary and secondary, the following regulation.

For a number of reasons, not the least of which is the development of pupils in a proper sense of decorum and good taste, the current popular dance, commonly referred to as “the twist” is not to be permitted at any school or parish dance.

It’s not clear what part of the dance, which is described as stomping out a cigarette with one foot while drying off with a towel, offended the bishop. 

Less than a month after Bishop Burke banned the dance from Buffalo, the Radio Trade Practices Committee called on the National Association of Broadcasters Code Committee to begin a screening process of every rock song presented to radio, to listen for anything objectionable. They claimed that “due to proliferation of songs dealing with raw sex and violence beamed directly and similarly at children and teenagers” that a screening process had to be put in place. 

“The Twist” was just one of the songs that conservative America felt could destroy family values. Other songs included “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Leader of the Pack,” and of course, “Louie, Louie,” which caught the attention of the FBI due to its indecipherable lyrics. 

Bishop Burke passed away in October 1962. “The Twist” would later be inducted to the National Songwriting Registry in the Library of Congress.


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