Roots of Rock & Roll – Alan Freed

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The evolution of Rock & Roll is a fascinating history. Periodically, I’ll write about something in its past that helped make it what it is today.

Alan Freed was a disc jockey who played hot jazz and pop songs first in Akron Ohio, and then in 1951, in Cleveland on radio station WJW. Cleveland record store owner Leo Mintz was a fan of rhythm and blues music, and he asked Freed to host a midnight radio show that featured R&B. Freed agreed, calling his show “The Moondog House” and billing himself as “The King of the Moondoggers.” He had an energetic on-air style, addressing his listeners as part of a make believe world of hipsters. He used the term “rock and roll” to describe the music played on his program.

In 1952, he promoted concerts that featured the R&B music he played on the radio. His “Moondog Coronation Ball” on March 21, 1952, at the Cleveland Arena, is considered the first Rock & Roll concert. The show was shut down due to overcrowding and a near riot, gaining Freed the publicity he’d hoped for. WJW increased his airtime, and he became nationally known, as WNJR in Newark New Jersey began to air tapes of his shows.

This led to Freed moving to New York City to DJ at WINS, which eventually became an all day Top 40 Rock & Roll station.

Freed does not have a happy ending. He was fired from WINS in 1958 when he told an audience in Boston that the Boston police did not want them to have a good time, which led to his arrest for inciting a riot. He landed at WABC, but lost his job when it was discovered that he was accepting payments from record companies to play specific records. He subsequently moved to California and worked at minor stations until he died from alcoholism in 1965 at the age of 43.

Freed was part of the inaugural group inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Freed is a major reason why the HOF is located in Cleveland – the home of Rock & Roll.

Here’s a clip from the 1956 movie Rock Rock Rock showing Alan Freed and His Rock and Roll Band playing Rock and Roll Boogie.

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