Albert James "Alan" Freed (December 15, 1921 – January 20,
1965) was an American disc jockey. He became internationally known
for promoting the mix of blues, country, rhythm and blues music on the
radio in the United States and Europe under the name of rock and roll.
His career was destroyed by the payola scandal that hit the
broadcasting industry in the early 1960s.
1 Early years
2.2 WJW Cleveland
2.3 WINS New York
2.4 Film and television
2.5 Legal trouble, payola scandal
3 Personal life
4 Later years and death
7 Further reading
8 External links
Freed was born to a Russian-Jewish immigrant father, Charles S. Freed,
and Welsh-American mother, Maude Palmer, in Windber, Pennsylvania. In
1933, Freed's family moved to Salem, Ohio, where 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 attending the Ohio State University, Freed became interested in
radio. Freed served in the US Army during
World War II
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. Freed enjoyed listening to these new styles because he
liked the rhythms and tunes.
Freed is commonly referred to as the "father of rock 'n' roll" due to
his promotion of the style of music, and his introduction of the
phrase "rock and roll", in reference to the musical genre, on
mainstream radio in the early 1950s. He helped bridge the gap of
segregation among young teenage Americans, presenting music by
African-American artists (rather than cover versions by white artists)
on his radio program, and arranging live concerts attended by racially
mixed audiences. Freed appeared in several motion pictures as
himself. In the 1956 film Rock, Rock, Rock, Freed tells the audience
that "rock and roll is a river of music which has absorbed many
streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, ragtime, cowboy songs, country songs,
folk songs. All have contributed greatly to the big beat."
Alan Freed joined
WAKR and became a local favorite, playing
hot jazz and pop recordings. The radio editor for the Akron Beacon
Journal followed Freed and his "Request Review"  nightly program of
dance. When he left the station, the non-compete clause in his
contract limited his ability to find work elsewhere, and he was forced
to take the graveyard shift at Cleveland's WJW radio where he
eventually made history playing the music he called "Rock and
In the late 1940s, while working at
WAKR (1590 AM) in Akron,
Ohio, Freed met
Cleveland record store owner Leo Mintz. Record
Rendezvous, one of Cleveland's largest record stores, had begun
selling rhythm and blues records. Mintz told Freed that he had noticed
increased interest in the records at his store, and encouraged him to
play them on the radio. Freed moved to
Cleveland in 1951, still
under a non-compete clause with WAKR. However, in April, through the
help of William Shipley, RCA's Northern Ohio distributor, he was
released from the non-compete clause. He was then hired by WJW radio
for a midnight program sponsored by Main Line, the RCA Distributor,
and Record Rendezvous. Freed peppered his speech with hipster
language, and, with a rhythm and blues record called "Moondog" as his
theme song, broadcast R&B hits into the night.
Mintz proposed buying airtime on
Cleveland radio station WJW
(850 AM), which would be devoted entirely to R&B recordings,
with Freed as host. On July 11, 1951, Freed began playing rhythm
and blues records on WJW. Freed called his show "The
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. He addressed his listeners as if they were all
part of a make-believe kingdom of hipsters, united in their love for
black music. He also began popularizing the phrase "rock and roll"
to describe the music he played.
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
Moondog Coronation Ball" on March 21, 1952,
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 take notice.
Soon, tapes of Freed's program began to air in the
New York City
New York City area
over station WNJR 1430 (now WNSW), in Newark, New Jersey.
WINS New York
In 1954, following his success on the air in Cleveland, Freed moved to
WINS (1010 AM) in New York City. Hardin, the original Moondog,
later took a court action suit against WINS for damages against Freed
for infringement in 1956, arguing prior claim to the name "Moondog",
under which he had been composing since 1947. Hardin collected a
$6,000 judgement from Freed, as well as an agreement to give up
further usage of the name Moondog. WINS eventually became an
around-the-clock Top 40 rock and roll radio station, and would remain
so until April 19, 1965—long after Freed left and three months after
he had died— when it became an all-news outlet.
Film and television
Freed also appeared in a number of pioneering rock and roll motion
pictures during this period. These films were often welcomed with
tremendous enthusiasm by teenagers because they brought visual
depictions of their favorite American acts to the big screen, years
before music videos would present the same sort of image on the small
Freed appeared in several motion pictures that presented many of the
big musical acts of his day, including:
1956: Rock Around the Clock featuring Freed, Bill Haley & His
Comets, The Platters, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, Lisa Gaye.
1956: Rock, Rock, Rock featuring Freed, Teddy Randazzo, Tuesday Weld,
Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Johnny Burnette, LaVern
Baker, The Flamingos, The Moonglows.
Mister Rock and Roll (film)
Mister Rock and Roll (film) featuring Freed,
Rocky Graziano and
Teddy Randazzo, Lionel Hampton, Ferlin Husky, Frankie Lymon, Little
Richard, Brook Benton, Chuck Berry, Clyde McPhatter, LaVern Baker,
Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
Don't Knock the Rock
Don't Knock the Rock featuring Freed, Bill Haley and His Comets,
Little Richard and the Upsetters, The Treniers, Dave Appell
and His Applejacks.
Go, Johnny Go!
Go, Johnny Go! featuring Freed, Jimmy Clanton, Chuck Berry,
Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, The Flamingos, Jackie Wilson, The
Cadillacs, Sandy Stewart, Jo Ann Campbell, Harvey Fuqua and The
Chuck Berry also played Freed's pal and sidekick, a
groundbreaking role in those days.
Freed was given a weekly primetime TV series, The Big Beat, which
premiered on ABC on July 12, 1957. The show was scheduled for a
summer run, with the understanding that if there were enough viewers,
it would continue into the 1957–58 television season. Although the
ratings for the show were strong, it was suddenly terminated after
four weeks. During the second episode, black singer
Frankie Lymon had
been shown dancing with a white girl from the studio audience: the
incident caused an uproar among ABC's local affiliates in the South
and "would allegedly lead to the show's cancellation".
During this period, Freed was seen on other popular programs of the
day, including To Tell the Truth, where he is seen defending the new
"rock and roll" sound to the panelists, who were all clearly more
comfortable with swing music: Polly Bergen, Ralph Bellamy, and Kitty
Freed went on to host a local version of Big Beat over
WNEW-TV in New
York City until late 1959, when he was fired from the show after
payola accusations against Freed surfaced.
Legal trouble, payola scandal
In 1958, Freed faced controversy in Boston when he told the audience,
"It looks like the Boston police don't want you to have a good time."
As a result, Freed was arrested and charged with inciting to riot, and
was fired from his job at WINS.
Freed's career ended when it was shown that he had accepted payola
(payments from record companies to play specific records), a practice
that was highly controversial at the time. There was also a conflict
of interest, that he had taken songwriting co-credits (most notably on
Chuck Berry's "Maybellene"), which entitled him to receive part of a
song's royalties, which he could help increase by heavily promoting
the record on his own program. In another example, Harvey Fuqua of The
Moonglows insisted Freed's name was not merely a credit on the song
"Sincerely" and that he did actually co-write it (which would still be
a conflict of interest for Freed to promote).
Freed lost his radio show on WABC, and was later fired from the
station altogether on November 21, 1959. He also was fired from
his television show (which for a time continued with a different
host). In 1960, payola was made illegal. In 1962, Freed pleaded guilty
to two charges of commercial bribery, for which he received a fine and
a suspended sentence.
On August 22, 1943, Freed was married to Betty Lou Bean. The couple
had two children, daughter Alana Freed (deceased) and son Lance Freed.
On December 2, 1949, the couple divorced. On August 12, 1950, Freed
married again to Marjorie J. Hess. During this time, the couple had
two children, Sieglinde Freed and Alan Freed, Jr. The couple divorced
on July 25, 1958.
Freed married for a third time on August 8, 1958, to Inga Lil Boling,
with whom he remained until his death.
Later years and death
Freed's gravestone in Cleveland
Because of the negative publicity from the payola scandal, no
prestigious station would employ Freed, and he moved to the West Coast
in 1960, where he worked at KDAY/1580 in Santa Monica, California. In
KDAY refused to allow him to promote "rock and roll" stage
shows, Freed moved to
WQAM in Miami, Florida, but that association
lasted only two months. During 1964, he returned to the Los Angeles
area and worked at KNOB/97.9.
Freed died in a Palm Springs, California, hospital on January 20,
1965, from uremia and cirrhosis brought on by alcoholism; he was 43
years old, and was initially interred in the
Ferncliff Cemetery in
Hartsdale, New York. In March 2002, Judith Fisher Freed carried his
ashes to the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. On
August 1, 2014, the Hall of Fame asked Alan Freed's son, Lance Freed,
to permanently remove the ashes, which he did. The Freed
family later announced the ashes would be interred at Cleveland's Lake
An archived sample of Freed's introduction on the
Moondog Show was
used by Ian Hunter in the opening of the now-classic song "Cleveland
Rocks", from Hunter's 1979 album You're Never Alone with a
The 1978 motion picture
American Hot Wax
American Hot Wax was inspired by Freed's
contribution to the rock and roll scene. Although director Floyd
Mutrux created a fictionalized account of Freed's last days in New
York radio by utilizing real-life elements outside of their actual
chronology, the film does accurately convey the fond relationship
between Freed, the musicians he promoted, and the audiences who
listened to them. The film starred
Tim McIntire as Freed and included
cameo appearances by Chuck Berry, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Frankie Ford
and Jerry Lee Lewis, performing in the recording studio and concert
On January 23, 1986, Freed was part of the first group inducted into
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. In 1988, he was also
posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. On
December 10, 1991, Freed was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of
Behind The Music produced an episode on Freed
featuring Roger Steffens. In 1998 The Official Website of Alan Freed
went online with the jumpstart from
Brian Levant and Michael Ochs
archives as well as a home page biography written by Ben Fong-Torres.
On February 26, 2002, Freed was honored at the
Grammy Awards with the
Trustees Award. In 2017 he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues
Hall of Fame.
Freed was used as a character in Stephen King's short story, "You Know
They Got a Hell of a Band", and was portrayed by Mitchell Butel in
its television adaptation for the Nightmares & Dreamscapes
mini-series. He was the subject of a 1999 television
movie, Mr. Rock 'n' Roll: The
Alan Freed Story, starring Judd Nelson
and directed by Andy Wolk. The 1997 film Telling Lies in America
Kevin Bacon as a disc jockey with a loose resemblance to
Cleveland Cavaliers' mascot
Moondog is named in honor
Freed is mentioned in The Ramones' song "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll
Radio?" as one of the band's idols. Other songs that reference
Freed include "The King of Rock 'n Roll" by
Terry Cashman and Tommy
West, "Ballrooms of Mars" by Marc Bolan, "They Used to Call it Dope"
by Public Enemy, "
Payola Blues" by Neil Young, "Done Too Soon" by Neil
Diamond, and "The Ballad of Dick Clark" by Skip Battin, a member of
^ Obituary Variety, January 27, 1965, page 54.
^ Larkin, Colin. "Freed, Alan". Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th
^ James, p. 59.
^ Jude Sheerin (20 March 2012). "How the world's first rock concert
ended in chaos". BBC News.
^ a b "Encyclopedia of
Cleveland History, Rock'n'Roll". Retrieved 6
^ Jackson, p. 35.
^ a b c d Miller, pp. 57-61.
^ Bordowitz, p. 63.
^ a b Sheerin, Jude (March 21, 2012). "How the world's first rock
concert ended in chaos". BBC News. Retrieved March 12, 2014.
^ Scotto, Robert Moondog, The Viking of 6th Avenue: The Authorized
Biography Process Music edition (22 November 2007)
ISBN 0-9760822-8-4 ISBN 978-0-9760822-8-6 (Preface by Philip
^ Brooks & Marsh, p. 136.
^ Jackson, p. 168.
^ Guralnick, p. 235.
^ Curtis, p. 37.
^ Jackson, p. 214.
Los Angeles Radio People, Where are They Now? – F, retrieved
^ AlanFreed.Com: death certificate, retrieved 2012-03-06.
^ Vigil, Vicki Blum (2007). Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio: Stones,
Symbols & Stories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company, Publishers.
^ Alan Duke, CNN (3 August 2014). "
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to
remove Alan Freed's ashes". CNN. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
^ Roger Friedman. "Rock Hall Gets Burned For Removing Famed DJ's Ashes
From Exhibit". Showbiz411. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
^ 19 Action News Digital Team (August 13, 2014). "
Alan Freed may have
left the Rock and Roll hall of Fame, but he's staying in
good". Cleveland, Ohio: WOIO.
Alan Freed – 1986 – Category:Non-Performer". Rock & Roll
Hall of Fame. 2017. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
^ "Alan Freed". National Radio Hall Of Fame. 2017. Retrieved January
^ "Alan Freed". Walkoffame.com. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. 2017.
Retrieved January 5, 2017.
^ a b c Danesi, p. 121.
^ Weinraub, Bernard (October 14, 1999). "The Man Who Knew It Wasn't
Only Rock 'n' Roll". The New York Times. Retrieved January 5,
^ Holden, Stephen (October 9, 1997). "60's
Payola Is His First Taste
of America". The New York Times. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
Bordowitz, Hank (2004). Turning Points in Rock and Roll. New York, New
York: Citadel Press. ISBN 978-0-8065-2631-7.
Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle F. (2009). The Complete Directory to Prime
Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946–Present. Random House.
Curtis, James M. (1987-06-15). Rock eras: interpretations of music and
society, 1954–1984. Popular Press. ISBN 978-0-87972-369-9.
Retrieved 20 November 2011.
Danesi, Marcel (2016). Concise Dictionary of Popular Culture. Rowman
& Littlefield. ISBN 1442253126.
Guralnick, Peter (2005). Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke.
Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-37794-5.
Jackson, John A. (1991). Big Beat Heat:
Alan Freed and the Early Years
of Rock & Roll. Schirmer. ISBN 0-02-871155-6.
James, David E. (2015). Rock 'N' Film: Cinema's Dance With Popular
Music. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199387621.
Miller, James (1999). Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and
Roll, 1947–1977. Simon & Schuster.
Wolff, Carlo (2006).
Cleveland Rock and Roll Memories. Cleveland: Gray
& Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-886228-99-3.
The Pied Pipers of Rock and Roll: Radio Deejays of the 50s and 60s, by
Smith, Wes (Robert Weston). Longstreet Press, 1989.
Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution by
Dawson, Jim (Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard), 2005.
DVD review of Mr. Rock 'n Roll
Alan Freed at
Find a Grave
Find a Grave – regarding the original burial
Alan Freed at
Find a Grave
Find a Grave – regarding a re-burial and present
location of Freed's ashes
Alan Freed Tribute Page
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 1986
The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers (Don Everly, Phil Everly)
Jerry Lee Lewis
(Ahmet Ertegun Award)
ISNI: 0000 0000 8079 6301
BNF: cb14043358d (data)