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Albert James "Alan" Freed

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Albert James "Alan" Freed was born on December 15, 1921, to Maud Palmer, age 22, and Charles S. Freed, age 28, in Windber, Pennsylvania. In 1933, Freed's family moved to Salem, Ohio, where Freed attended Salem High School (Ohio), 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. Soon after World War II, Freed landed broadcasting jobs at smaller radio staions, including WKST (New Castle, DE), WKBN (Youngstown, OH), and WAKR (Akron, OH), where, in 1945, he became a local favorite, playing hot jazz and pop recordings.

While Freed called himself the "father of rock and roll", he was not the first to play it on the airwaves; however, he is credited with coining and popularizing the term "rock and roll" to describe the style of music. Many of the top African-American performers of the 1950s have given public credit to Freed for pioneering racial integration among the youth of America at a time when the adults were still promoting racial strife. Little Richard has given the credit to Freed that others have denied him. An example of Freed's non-racist attitude is preserved in the motion pictures starring many of the leading African-American acts of the day in which he played a part as himself. For example, in the 1956 film Rock Rock Rock, Freed, as himself, tells the audience that "Rock and roll is a river of music that has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, rag time, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed to the big beat."

After leaving WAKR in Akron in 1949, Freed moved to Cleveland, Ohio. In April of 1950, Freed entered the Cleveland market on WXEL-TV (Channel 9) as the afternoon movie show host.

Leo Mintz, owner of the Record Rendezvous, one of Cleveland's largest record stores, helped Freed get a job playing classical music on Cleveland radio station WJW. In 1951, Mintz told Freed that he had noticed increased interest in rhythm and blues records at his store. He wanted to broaden the market for such recordings, and he proposed to buy several hours of late-night airtime on WJW, to be devoted entirely to R&B recordings. He asked Freed to serve 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 a New York street musician. Freed adopted the record as his show's theme music. His on-air manner was energetic and faintly smarmy. He addressed his listeners as if they were all part of a make-believe kingdom of hipsters, united in their love for Negro music.

Later that year, 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 "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 died January 20, 1965

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There is no doubt about Freed's early contributions. He defined the term Rock n Roll, and by extension, he has defined much of our culture.

Freed was sort of the big brother to his younger contemporary Dick Clark. We all know what became of Mr Clark. Everyone may not know the story of Alan Freed. Freed, and, to a lesser extent, Clark were doing the same thing, in different markets, to promote this new type of music, this new culture. Then along came the Payola Scandals, which put the brakes on Rock n Roll, for a few years.

In case you don't know, here's a brief rundown of the Payola Scandals. Everything began with ASCAP. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers was up in arms over the percieved loss of royalties to radio. Up until this point, sheet music provided the royalties, with all the income going to the authors. With the advent of radio, those royalties became shared with radio stations, and publishers. Radio stations made the decision not to play any recordings registered with ASCAP, and formed their own publishing company, BMI (Broadcasters Music Inc.). ASCAP, with it's money and influence persuaded Congress to investigate radio(along with the rigged television gameshows it was already investigating). The power struggle began.

In those days, this "new music" was depised by the established music industry in general, and ASCAP in particular. ASCAP was open and vocal about excluding and ignoring what they termed "Black and Hillbillie" music. What resulted was a power struggle between ASCAP and BMI. BMI grew with the growth of Rock n Roll, and at some point they began asserting their muscle. Muscle built on "Black and Hillbillie" music, which is what the earliest Rock n Roll was. They pushed the investigation behind the scenes, and the hope grew that it would bury and end this "Rock n Roll Music".

Dick Clark was targeted on a low level of this investigation, but Alan Freed became the focus, and the scapegoat (along with many minor players). He was eventually indicted, and charged with bribery, and tax evasion. He lost not only his career, but the essence of his life. He died just a few years later.

It is an accepted notion that the Payola Scandal's purpose, as it pertains to the music industry, was to end Rock n Roll. For 3 years, ('60-'63) there was some very honestly dreadful pop music released, and it seemed they had succeeded to some extent. A few of the bigger stars like Elvis prevailed, but it was pretty slim pickens. Then along came the Beatles, and the British Invasion....

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