Alan Freed invented rock ‘n’ roll.
All right, maybe he wasn't the first to play rock music – in fact, he wasn't a musician at all. Freed was a disc jockey at WJW in Cleveland, playing R&B music on his groovily-named show "The Moondog House," when he coined the term "rock ‘n’ roll" and went on to organize the world's first rock ‘n’ roll concert. 1952's Moondog Coronation Ball drew tens of thousands of music lovers – far more than the venue could hold – and was shut down by the authorities after just one song. It was a fitting beginning for the genre.
After the Moondog Coronation Ball’s grand implosion, Alan Freed continued to bring rock ‘n’ roll to the world. WJW may not have broadcast coast to coast, but movies were as wildly popular as ever… and Freed used them to spread the word about the music. The first was Rock Around the Clock, the story of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll (though lots of liberties were taken with the truth):
The formula was a simple and winning one – write a thin plot and fill in the gaps with great rock ‘n’ roll songs. It was easy to repeat, too:
Freed followed his big-screen success with a 1957 TV show, The Big Beat – a precursor to American Bandstand, it didn’t last nearly as long as its famous cousin. The show was pulled after just four episodes – reportedly, because TV station executives reacted badly to the sight of a black musician dancing with a white girl from the audience. Freed’s rock ‘n’ roll had been comfortably integrated since that first 1952 concert, and the teens were ready for it, but their parents weren’t. It’s one more of many ways Freed was ahead of his time.
Alan Freed would have turned 90 years old today, if he hadn’t died at just 43 in 1965… but we have a feeling that his legacy, as they say, is here to stay.
Written by Linnea Crowther