Sunday, July 3, 2011

Alan Freed (1921-1965)

Alan Freed marker in Windber, PA (Click any photo to Enlarge)Somerset County, PA

Marker Text: Disc jockey who coined the term “Rock & Roll” in the early 1950s. Freed used the term to describe up-tempo black rhythm and blues records he played as DJ “Moondog” on his radio show. Freed further popularized this music through TV programs, movies, and concerts, including what is considered to be the nation’s first Rock & Roll concert (1952). Raised in Windber, Freed was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

Location: At Miner’s Park, near corner of Graham Avenue and 13th Street, Windber, PA. Erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 2003.

He coined the phrase ‘rock and roll,’ and not only sparked the trend but fanned it into flame.” (Quote about Freed from article in Pageant magazine in July, 1957)

Alan Freed marker with view of Miner's Park in background  Alan Freed, a well-known disc jockey was commonly referred to as the "father of rock and roll.” Freed is credited with popularizing the term “rock and roll” to describe the music style as he used the phrase in his public radio broadcasts in Cleveland, Ohio. The term rock and roll had been used in songs by other famous artists at the time prior to Freed using it.

  Alan Freed was born in nearby Johnstown, Pennsylvania and lived in Windber (where this marker is located) until he was about 12 years old when his father moved the family to Salem, Ohio in 1933. Freed attended Salem High School, graduating in 1940. While Freed was in high school, he formed a band called the “Sultans of Swing” in which he played the trombone. Freed's initial ambition was to be a bandleader; however, an ear infection put an end to this dream. While in college, Freed became interested in radio. Freed served in the Army during World War II and worked as a DJ on Armed Forces Radio. Soon after World War II, Freed landed broadcasting jobs at smaller radio stations, including WKST (New Castle, PA); WKBN (Youngstown, OH); and WAKR (Akron, OH), where, in 1945, he became a local favorite for playing hot jazz and pop recordings.

Alan Freed star marker in sidewalk next to marker

In the photo is a star embedded in the sidewalk next to the marker.

  In the late 1940s, while working at WAKR in Akron, Ohio, Freed met Leo Mintz, the owner of the Record Rendezvous, one of Cleveland's largest record stores, who had begun selling rhythm and blues records. Mintz proposed buying airtime on WJW (Cleveland) to be devoted entirely to R&B recordings, with Freed as host. On July 11, 1951, Freed started playing rhythm and blues records on WJW. Freed called his show "The Moondog House" and billed himself as "The King of the Moondoggers". He had been inspired by an offbeat instrumental called "Moondog Symphony" that had been recorded by New York street musician Louis T. Hardin, aka "Moondog". Freed adopted the record as his show's theme music. His on-air manner was energetic, in contrast to many contemporary radio presenters of traditional pop music, who tended to sound more subdued and low-key in manner.

Alan Freed marker looking west in Windber, PA  Later in 1951, Freed promoted dances and concerts featuring the music he was playing on the radio. He was one of the organizers of a five-act show called "The Moondog Coronation Ball" on March 21, 1952 at the Cleveland Arena. This event is known as the first rock and roll concert. Crowds attended in numbers far beyond the arena's capacity, and the concert was shut down early due to overcrowding and a near-riot. Freed gained a priceless notoriety from the incident. WJW immediately increased the airtime allotted to Freed's program, and his popularity soared.

  In those days, Cleveland was considered by the music industry to be a "breakout" city, where national trends first appeared in a regional market. Freed's popularity made the pop music business sit up and take notice. Soon, tapes of Freed's program began to air in the New York City area.

Alan Freed marker looking east toward Miner's Park  Although Freed made use of the "Moondog Symphony," he failed to obtain the composer's permission to use the piece, nor did he pay any royalties. As a result he was sued by Hardin for infringement in 1952; Hardin also argued prior claim to the name "Moondog," under which he had been composing since 1947. Freed lost the suit, and had to give up both use of the piece and the Moondog name.

  Freed’s popularity continued to grow, and on September 8, 1954, he signed a deal to join WINS in New York. Soon after arriving in New York, he lost his “Moondog” nickname after a threatened lawsuit from Hardin for infringement in 1952, since he failed to obtain the composer's permission to use the music or the name or pay royalties. He then decided to call his late-night show “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party.”

  Freed was instrumental in introducing this new style of music “rock and roll” to a teenage audience who were ready to have their own type of music unlike the musical taste of their parents. Alan Freed appeared in several motion pictures in which he played a part as himself.

  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Freed was inducted into the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, in January 23, 1986, alongside such pioneers and greats as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, James Brown, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke. For more information about Freed visit the Alan Freed Web Site.

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