Thursday, January 5, 2012

January 5: Alan Freed

Though there are many people throughout all of music history that can lay claim to various "firsts" and groundbreaking accomplishments, in almost every case, the "right" to call themselves the first in that area can be debated by a number of other individuals.  In reality, it rarely matters who was first, it is the fact that the event itself occurred that sent subsequent ripples across the world of music.  However, there are a few moments that are so vital to the progression of the art of music that they stand as historical points onto themselves, and there is no question that one of these came courtesy of a man named Albert James Freed.  While most know him as Alan Freed, or perhaps by his longtime radio nickname, "Moondog," it is he who is largely responsible for one of the biggest shifts in mass musical consumption, and it is work as a disc jockey that has made him a legend within the world of music.  It was also the location of Freed's seminal moment that earned Cleveland, Ohio the nickname of "The Rock And Roll City," and it is now home to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame And Museum.  Standing as perhaps the most important figure in the entire history of the r&b and rock movements, it was in fact Alan Freed who first used the term "rock and roll" on his radio program in the early 1950's, and the world would forever be changed.

This massive change within the world of music came about shortly after Freed moved from Akron, Ohio to Cleveland, were after a number of jobs, he secured a spot on the radio station WJW.  However, most historians agree that it was NOT Freed who came up with the term, nor was it solely his idea to play rhythm and blues records on his radio program.  Freed had a friendship with a man named Leo Mintz, who at the time ran one of the largest record stores in all of Cleveland, Rendezvous Records.  It was during the final years of the 1940's and the early 1950's that Mintz began selling rhythm and blues records in his store; and at the beginning of 1951, the number of such albums that he was selling to "white kids" was impossible to ignore.  It was due to this reality that Mintz encouraged Freed to play some of these albums on the air, and this turned into reality on July 11 of that year.  As an "on-air personality," Freed was far more forceful and energetic than nearly all of his peers, and this fit well with the tone of the music, and quickly garnered him a large following of young people.  In fact, Freed's shows became so in demand that taped episodes were soon being aired in New York City, and the music industry as a whole began to focus promotions in Cleveland, quickly making it one of the hotbeds for up and coming musicians.

Yet Freed is also responsible for another important "first," and this occurred on the evening of March 21, 1952 at the Cleveland Arena.  The event was called "The Moondog Coronation Ball," and it featured a bill of five different "rock style" acts, and many point to this as the very first rock concert.  In fact, the event was sold well over capacity of the arena, and it was shut down early by police, which would become a common occurrence at large-scale rock concerts over the following years.  To this day, the event is still held yearly in Cleveland, paying tribute to the original in terms of the spirit of the event.  Yet even though it was ended early, the impact of The Ball was undeniable, and Freed soon found himself being given far more airtime at the radio station, and within a few short years, he found himself broadcasting from New York City, as well as international locations.  In many ways, it was the excitement and energy that Freed brought to his broadcasts that set him far beyond his contemporaries, and his insistence on bringing the "new" sound of rock and roll to the masses would shape the entire world of music for decades, and in many ways is still relevant to this day.  Whether it was due to his usage of the term, the style of music he played or the fact that he put on the "first" rock concert, there are few individuals in history that have had as longstanding and outright groundbreaking an impact on music as a whole as one finds in Alan Freed.

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