A Tribute to Alan Freed,
Mr. "Rock 'n' Roll"

Alan Freed Related Links

ALAN FREED, the disc jockey credited with naming rock & roll, was born Albert James Freed on December 21, 1921, near Johnstown, PA. In 1933 the Freed family moved to Salem, Ohio. In high school Freed formed a band known as the Sultans of Swing, in which he played trombone.

In 1942 Freed landed his first broadcasting job, at WKST (New Castle, PA). He took a sportscasting position at WKBN (Youngstown, OH) the following year. In 1945 he moved to WAKR (Akron, OH) and became a local favorite, playing hot jazz and pop recordings.

In 1949 Freed moved to WXEL-TV in Cleveland. Record store owner Leo Mintz convinced him to emcee a program of rhythm & blues records over WJW radio, and on July 11, 1951, calling himself "Moondog," Freed went on the air. At his "Moondog Coronation Ball" at the 10,000-capacity Cleveland Arena in March 1952, upwards of 20,000 fans (almost all black) crashed the gates, causing the dance to be cancelled. This is considered to be the first "rock" concert. It also marked the point at which Freed's audience began to include an increasing number of whites - who subsequently heard Freed refer to rhythm & blues as "rock & roll."

In September 1954 Freed was hired by WINS radio in New York. The following January he held a landmark dance there, promoting black performers as rock & roll artists. Within a month, the music industry was advertising "rock & roll" records in the trade papers.

Freed also emceed a string of legendary stage shows at the Brooklyn and New York Paramount Theatres; was heard nationally via CBS radio; and starred in several rock & roll movies.

In 1957 ABC-TV gave Freed his own nationally-televised rock & roll show, but an episode on which Frankie Lymon danced with a white girl enraged ABC's Southern affiliates and the show was cancelled.

In the spring of 1958, when violence occurred outside the Boston Arena after a Freed stage show, local authorities indicted him for inciting to riot. The charges were eventually dropped, but WINS failed to renew Freed's contract.

Freed moved to WABC radio, and also hosted a locally televised dance show.

When the broadcasting payola scandal erupted in November 1959, Freed claimed payments he'd received from record companies were for "consultation," not as an inducement to play their records. He was fired from his radio and television programs.

Freed was hired by Los Angeles' KDAY radio (owned by the same company that owned WINS) in 1960, but when management refused to let him promote live rock & roll shows Freed left the station and returned to Manhattan to emcee a live twist revue. When the twist craze cooled he hooked on as a disc jockey at WQAM (Miami, FL). Realizing that his dream of returning to New York radio was just that, Freed's drinking increased. The Miami job lasted only two months.

In December 1962, in New York, Freed pleaded guilty to two counts of commercial bribery and was fined three hundred dollars.

Living in Palm Springs, CA, and drinking heavily, the one-time "King of Rock & Roll" was a broken man. He died there on January 20, 1965, ostensibly of bleeding esophageal varices and cirrhosis of the liver. Those closest to him swear he died of a broken heart.

In 1986 Freed was among the original inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. In 1991 a comprehensive biography, Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll was published. That same year, Freed received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.


Triumphs and Tragedies of the
Legendary Alan Freed

(Friday, September 27, 1991) - Rock radio pioneer Alan Freed's first career choice was journalism. He was doing a classical music show on WJW-AM in Cleveland in the early 1950s and had to be talked into hosting a show featuring a new sound - R&B. But Freed was an opportunist and quickly saw the commercial appeal of the music he is credited with naming: "Rock 'n' Roll."

He became rock's first prominent spokesman, brought the rhythm and blues to millions of white teen-agers, and gave hundreds of artists their first recognition. His career was destroyed in 1959 after he was convicted in New York on commercial bribery charges for accepting payoffs (payola) to play certain records. Ironically, New York was one of very few states that had such a law. There was no federal charge against payola until 1960.

Freed died the day of Lyndon Johnson's inauguration, Jan. 20, 1965, broke and heartbroken. Nevertheless, he remains one of the most recognizable radio jocks in rock history, and was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. "Freed was a fascinating contradiction. He symbolized the triumphs and tragedies of rock 'n' roll," said author John A. Jackson, calling from his home in Amity Harbor, N.Y. Jackson's recent book, "Big Beat Heat - Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock 'n' Roll" (Schirmer Books, $24.95) - will be part of a big Freed focus and display Sunday at Steve Petryszyn's 25th Cleveland Record/CD Convention, 5615 Chevrolet Blvd., Parma. Jackson, a rock buff who teaches physical education in the Farmingdale, Long Island, school system, is convinced that Freed was not aware of the potential of black R&B when he took a disc jockey job at WJW in July 1951.

"He took it just as a job. In fact, he turned down the (R&B) show sponsor, Leo Mintz of Record Rendezvous, at first. Freed wasn't sure he wanted to devote the whole show to that music. But he accepted the job a week later. He quickly realized the potential, loved the music and moved in on it." Soon, listeners heard Freed's trademark introduction, "Hello everybody, how y'all tonight?" Later, came the cowbell and thumping of a telephone book and "This is Alan Freed, king of the Moondoggers!"

Jackson visited Ohio and interviewed Freed's Salem High School (Salem, O.) acquaintances, radio colleagues and relatives, though Freed's second and third wives, Jackie and Inga, declined to be interviewed.

"Freed had a lot of charm. He was taller - over 6 feet - than his pictures make him out to be," Jackson said. Freed's father, Charles Sydney Ford, was a Lithuanian-born Jew. His mother, Maude Palmer, was the youngest daughter of a Baptist coal miner from Wales.

Freed, born Aldon James Freed in Windber, Pa., in 1921, started changing little facts about his life early on. This fine-tuning of his background and image bolstered Freed's self-image as an `underdog type' forced to overcome adversities before finding success, Jackson writes. Freed's employment application for WKBN radio station in Youngstown wouldn't pass a background check today. He added a year to his age, changed his name to Albert J. and inserted some fictitious acting, directing and music experience.

Freed also tinkered with his link to the phrase "rock 'n' roll." The story goes that Freed and Mintz applied the old southern black term to the new rhythm and blues, but Jackson found that Freed gradually shoved Mintz out of the picture. "In checking out his interviews, chronologically, I found that in his earliest one Freed credited the term `as being more Leo's idea than mine.' Then in '53 and '54 he was saying `Leo and I.' But by '57 he was saying it was his idea,' Jackson said. Jackson gives credit to Freed for making the strong, gutsy black versions of songs more popular than the white covers. "Maybellene," the 1955 song that Chuck Berry originally titled "Ida Red," later became the first song that overshadowed versions by white singers. It sold a million copies in the days when a big hit in black or "race" music was lucky to sell 10,000.

"That was another sign of the growing popularity of rock 'n' roll," Jackson said. Freed was given writing credit on records for both "Maybellene" and the Moonglows' "Sincerely," (No. 20 in 1955). Jackson believes that Chess Records put Freed's name on the songs to get airplay, a common alternative to cash payments in those days.

"But Freed pushed those songs because he believed in them. He pushed other Berry records just as hard, even though he had no link to them," Jackson said. Jackson traces payola back to 1863 when the composer of "Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Grounds" gave the leader of a group, The Hutchinson Singing Family, a portion of the song's royalties for singing it at their concerts. Gilbert and Sullivan paid performers to sing their songs, Jackson wrote, calling it "song plugging."

But these examples didn't help Freed. The day in 1959 that TV quiz show whiz Charles Van Doren admitted he was given the correct answers beforehand on the show "Twenty-One," Freed was telling record distributors that he would only accept cash for playing records. But enough checks had passed between them to damage him, Jackson said. While working in New York, Freed refused to sign an ABC-TV affadavit saying that he had not received money for playing records, for holding back records until payment was received or for ownership or interest in music publishing or copyrights. The refusal to sign became irrelevant shortly afterward when Freed was fired.

"One of the results of the payola scandal was the change in radio," Jackson added. "WINS radio in New York dropped rock 'n' roll and played Frank Sinatra three days straight. Other stations dropped rock. Disc jockeys no longer could chose songs and play what they wanted. The station play list came in. And music became bland."

For Freed, the scandal resulted in his increased drinking. He was already a chain smoker. A car accident in 1953 had severely damaged one of Freed's lungs, spleen and liver and necessitated 260 stitches to his face. He had fallen asleep at the wheel on Kinsman Rd. on the way to his home in Shaker Heights.

Freed was also indicted for income tax evasion in 1964. He died before the case came up. The IRS attached his BMI royalties for up to 12 years and got a warrant to search his first wife's home, but no monies were found.

Jackson visited Freed's grave at the Ferncliff Memorial Mausoleum in Hartsdale, N.Y. The memorial plaque is simple: "Freed - Alan 1921-1965."

Copyright (c)1991, The Plain Dealer By JANE SCOTT, PLAIN DEALER ROCK REPORTER

King of the Moondoggers:
Celebrating Alan Freed,
The DJ Who Named Rock 'n' Roll

In 1951, disc jockey Alan Freed walked into a small studio at Cleveland's WJW AM radio to play the blues-based music he eventually would be credited as naming "rock 'n' roll."
There was little reason then to imagine that more than four decades later people would honor Freed's contribution and celebrate his influence on American popular culture. But such is the case on the museum's second level where - as part of the wing hailing radio's influence on rock - an exhibit has been devoted to Freed's pivotal role in playing the music. "There's no way you can present the full story of rock without devoting some chapters to Alan Freed," said James D. Henke, chief curator. "He was playing and recognizing the depth of this music long before others did, and Cleveland was where he was doing so." The centerpiece of "The Big Beat: Alan Freed" exhibit is a continuously running film, narrated by Freed's former business manager, Jack Hook, detailing the disc jockey's life and controversial career as a radio personality. While spinning records at WJW, Freed defied tradition by openly playing the soulful songs by black artists who were to serve as the foundation for the music that was to become "rock 'n' roll." Freed combined his genuine love for the music with an exuberant sense of self-promotion, which culminated in his title as "King of the Moondoggers." His career was to take an ill-fated turn when he left Cleveland for a radio job in New York City. In 1959, Freed was implicated in a scheme in which disc jockeys received payments from record companies to play certain songs. The resulting scandal effectively destroyed Freed's influence in radio and he died in 1965, obscure and broke. He was 43. But Henke said for all of Freed's flaws, his place in rock history is unmistakable and significant. "There's no doubt he deserves the prominent place he has been given in the hall," he said.
Copyright (c)1995, The Plain Dealer By ROGER BROWN, PLAIN DEALER RADIO CRITIC


Alan Freed

It was on November 6, 1959, that the House of Representatives announced that a subcommittee led by Rep. Oren Harris was probing commercial bribery in the promotion of music. The proceedings were initiated because of a letter from the American Authors and Composers Guild stating that bribery is the "prime factor in selecting music for broadcasts and that the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission know of this but have failed to act upon it." The probe was wide scale and no one was left out. Both Freed and Dick Clark, who's American Bandstand was a hit show, were investigated, along with many others.

Freed and Clark were asked by ABC to sign affidavits that they had not accepted payola. Clark did and also, as a result of the investigation, was forced to divest himself of some financial holdings he had in the music industry. Freed claimed that the money he received was for "Consultation" and not payola. He refused to sign the affidavit which resulted in the termination of his contracts by ABC. Freed was eventually charged with 26 counts of Commercial Bribery and in December, 1962, plead guilty to 2 counts, he received a suspended sentence and a fine of $300.00. On the verge of bankruptcy, his career as a DJ was over. Though other DJs and promoters who were involved in the same schemes as Freed made it through the scandal unharmed, Freed's prominence made him a prime target.

Freed left New York and moved to California. In Los Angeles, Freed got a job at KDAY, which ironically was owned by the same company that owned WINS. A disagreement with the station management over Freed being allowed to promote live rock 'n roll shows caused him to leave the station. He returned to New York where he hosted a live twist show. When the twist fad died down, he left New York and worked at WQAM in Miami, FL.

His life at the top was over. Knowing he would never be able to go back to New York, Freed began to drink heavily, which led to his departure from the Miami station after 2 months. He ended up in Palm Springs, CA., a broken man, trying hard to regain his popularity but still drinking. In 1964, the government filed tax evasion charges against him, alleging that he failed to pay taxes on the payments he received from record labels. He died before the case came to trial. The IRS did attach royalty payments from BMI records for 12 years to satisfy its judgement.

On January 20, 1965, Freed passed away. The official cause of death was listed as Bleeding Esophageal Varices and Cirrhosis of the Liver. His body was transported back to New York where he was laid to rest in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, NY.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio was built there, in part, because it was the city where Freed began to play the music that is immortalized in it. As an honor to the man that gave us Rock 'n Roll, Freed was one of the original inductees to the Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1991 Freed received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

Alan Freed was the man who brought the world's attention to the great sounds of Rock 'n Roll. He appears to have used his influence to obtain personal gain that eventually would lead to his downfall. His pioneering ways changed the way music is broadcast today. No longer do DJs select their play lists. Programs directors and station management dictate what we hear. He was liked by many people and hated by a few, but he was a pivotal character in music history.

Courtesy: About.COM



Another Bio on Alan Freed

submitted by a reader, April 22, 2001
One of the most important popularizers of rock and roll during the '50s, Alan Freed was the first disc jockey and concert producer of rock and roll. Often credited with coining the term rock and roll in 1951, ostensibly to avoid the stigma attached to R&B and so called race music, Freed opened the door to white acceptance of black music, eschewing white cover versions in favor of the R&B originals.

Albert James Freed was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1922 of a Welsh mother and Lithuanian born father. In 1933 when Freed was twelve his family moved to Salem, Ohio. He attended Salem High School during which time he formed a band known as the Sultans of Swing, in which he played trombone. His ambition was to one day to become a bandleader, but an ear infection ended that possibility. In college, he developed an interest in radio, and following World WarII he landed a job at a number of small stations. Among them were WKST (1942) in New Castle, Pennsylvania, sportscasting at WKBN (1942) and WAKR (1945) where he became a local favorite, playing hot jazz and pop recordings. Both of these stations were in Akron, Ohio. In 1949 Freed landed a job and moved to WXEL-TV in Cleveland.

Leo Mintz, a local record store owner, saw an increasing number of white teenagers buying rhythm and blues records at his store. Based on these observations Mintz suggested to Freed that he should begin playing these records. On July 11, 1951, calling himself "Moondog," Freed went on the air and became among the first to program rhythm and blues for a white teenage audience. Other small stations followed eventually forcing the larger stations to join in.

Due to the prejudices of the times Freed began calling the rhythm and blues records he played Rock "n" Roll. What is ironic that term Freed was using to make rhythm and blues more acceptable to a white audience, was slang for sex in the black community. In 1951 a black vocal group The Dominoes recorded "Sixty Minute Man" which was a (#1 R&B and #17 pop) hit. The lyrics were highly suggestive and used rock and roll in the lyrics. Freed began using the term a month later and most likely was inspired by this song.

Freed would name his show Moondog's Rock 'n' Roll Party. The shows success led to Freed's March 1952 Moondog Coronation Ball in Cleveland. Top black acts were booked for the show. Six thousand fans crashed gates in addition to the thousands already in 10,000 seat hall. Two thirds of the audience was white.

In 1954 Freed moved his show to WINS radio in NY. Within months the show was #1. Freed began staging revues at Brooklyn Paramount where he often could be found on stage gyrating. In 1955 he appeared in a number of rock and roll movies such as Don't Knock The Rock, Rock Around The Clock, and Rock, Rock, Rock. It was no surprise that these movies broadened the acceptance of rock and roll. The real surprise was Alan Freed in the flesh. In his mid-thirties Freed looked at least ten years older. Klutzy with little stage presence Freed looked completely out of place. To many teens Freed looked like the ultimate adult.

In 1957 ABC-TV gave Freed his own nationally-televised rock & roll show, but an episode on which Frankie Lymon danced with a white girl enraged ABC's Southern affiliates and the show was cancelled.

Freed's first real problems began when he put on a show at the Boston Arena (1958) that resulted in his being charged with incitement to riot. Though the charges were later dismissed, but WINS failed to renew Freed's contract. This incident forced him into into bankruptcy and would just be the beginning of Freed's legal problems.

Freed moved to WABC radio, and also hosted a locally televised dance show.

In 1959 the U.S. House Oversight Committee, at the urging of ASCAP, began to look into deejays who took gifts from record companies in return for playing their records on their shows. Though a number of deejays and program directors were caught in the scandal, the committee decide to focus on Freed. Freed's broadcasts alliances quickly deserted him. In 1959, WABC in New York asked him to sign a statement confirming that he had never accepted payola. Freed refused "on principle" to sign and was fired.

On Feb 8, 1960 a New York Grand Jury began looking into commercial information in the recording industry and on May 19, 1960 eight men were charged with receiving $116,580 in illegal gratuities. This probe would lead to Freed being charged with income tax evasion by the IRS.

Freed was the only deejay subpoenaed by the Oversight Committee and refused to testify despite being given immunity. Trial began December, 1962 and ended with Freed pleading guilty to 29 counts of commercial bribery. Though he only received a $300 fine and 6 months suspended sentence his career would be over.

Forced to leave New York Freed work briefly at KDAY (owned by the same company that owned WINS) in 1960, in Los Angeles, but when management refused to let him promote live rock & roll shows Freed left the station and returned to Manhattan to emcee a live twist revue. When the twist craze cooled he hooked on as a disc jockey at WQAM (Miami, FL). Realizing that his dream of returning to New York radio was just that, Freed's drinking increased. The Miami job lasted only two months.

March 15, 1964 Freed was indicted by a federal grand jury for tax evasion. The IRS claimed that Freed owed $37,920 tax on unreported of $56,652 for the years 1957-59. Living in Palm Springs, California at the time, Freed was poor, unemployed and unemployable. Before he could answer the charges he entered a hospital suffering from uremia. Alan Freed died Jan 20, 1965 a penniless, broken man. He was 43.

Freed truly loved rock and roll, claimed to have never have played a record he didn't like and never forgot where the music came from. However, he was a flawed man who claimed songwriting credits that weren't his, paid performers on his tours very little and associated with questionable individuals.

Alan Freed was inducted in to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

Bill Haley & The Comets Fans: Click for D4Haley International - "Gems by Gregoire"

Marshall Lytle, The Comets ...
Myself and Johnny Grande one other remaining member's of Bill Haley's group called the Saddlemen, (before the group was called the Comets) were in Cleveland on the Alan Freed Moondog show in 1952. We were promoting our record called "Rock The Joint." That nite Alan Freed turned the mike switch on while our record played and started yelling "ROCK & ROLL EVERYBODY!" The phone started ringing and the audience said play that ROCK & ROLL song again ... and he did, again and again and again. I think that was the night that Rock & Roll was born.
--Marshall Lytle, of The Original Saddlemen AND THE COMETS, Still Rockin Around The Clock.


Chuck Berry, 1983 - "When Alan Freed started his exploitations, and he saw 'em dancin' and rockin' on the floor, doin' the barrelhouse roll, you know, so it was rock 'n' roll music. That's where the 'brand' came from. But Louis Jordan was playin' it long before me, Fats, any of us."

Alan Freed Related Links

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Reader Comments

Alan coined the phrase "Rock n Roll" in Cleveland at a record store called "Record Rendevous" in 1951. The place stayed open until the mid 1980's, they used to blast 50s rock n roll and rockabilly out into the streets of the city block they were on, when I was growing up in the late 70s, I used to buy all of my rockabilly reissue albums there, cool place!!
Ed - RockinEd1@aol.com

To Frank Prola:
There is quite a bit of stuff on Alan Freed on the internet just by searching his name.  My own personal recollections of the man go back to 1955 when my family moved from California to Massachusettes, a state we had left 5 years earlier.   I was a teenager 15 years old and had been introduced to R and B music on the West Coast by listening to Hunter Hancocks local radio show and was hungry to find some of this great music, I had heard on the west coast.   After searchaing the radio dial for a few nights I came across a great show out of WINS New York City called Alan Freed's Rock and Roll Party.   I loved the show and listened to it faifthfully.  I remember vividly the night he announced the death of legendary blues singer Johnny Ace in a game of Russian Roulette in Houston.  I followed him from station to station.  I believe that last station I heard him on was WCBS (not sure call letters) in NYC after the payola scandal had begun then he disappeared.   In late 1959 I moved to back to California and sometime in early sixties Alan Freed showed up on Los Angeles AM radio at KDAY.  He tried to bring back the style of his  mid 50's WINS Rock and Roll Party but it just did not catch on and he soon faded away. I was drafted into the Army and while in the army I heard of his death in Palm Springs.  It saddened me as I really loved his old WINS show.    Sorry dont really have much info to give you but those are my personal recollections. Regards
Bob Bopper Hennessey

Info courtesy:

Frank Prola
E-mail: frp122@webtv.net

Stephanie Prola

ŠRockabilly Hall of FameŽ