The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Today In Rock: Alan Freed is Born

Thursday, December 15: 2 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Alan Freed

On December 15, 1921, Albert James Freed – the man who famously christened a radical new form of music as "rock 'n' roll" - was born near Johnston, Pennsylvania. Moving to Salem, Ohio, with his family at age 12, Alan (as he was better known) Freed spent his formative years in the Buckeye State, eventually attending Ohio State, where the campus radio station piqued a fascination with radio that would stay with him through all his days. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

By the early 1950s, Freed had settled in to a new DJ position in Cleveland, playing R&B records during a segment sponsored by friend and local record shop owner Leo Mintz, whose inner city store, Record Rendezvous, was selling many records by burgeoning R&B artists. "I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1950, '51, '52," said noted DJ and rock and roll historian Norm N. Nite during the first Hall of Fame Inductions in 1986. "I listened to Alan Freed playing those records on the Moondog show. I knew at that particular time that  it was something special that was going on." It was during this time that Freed first started using the phrase "rock n' roll" to describe the uptempo R&B music he was playing – and the new offshoot of pop music it inspired – on Cleveland radio. The response to the new music was great, and the inaugural "Moondog Coronation Ball" on March 21, 1952 sold-out the 10,000-person capacity Cleveland Arena – and another 20,000 people arrived on the day of the concert, forcing the concert's cancellation.

Early on, Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun also recognized the brilliance of Freed and the music he was playing. "If a few  broadcasters hadn't taken a chance on this crazy sound in the early 1950s, a lot of great music might have never been heard," said Ertegun at the 1986 Inductions. "I went to see Alan Freed in Cleveland in the early '50s. He was doing things I'd never seen before: rattling rattlers, singing with a record, screaming, jumping around. I said, 'My God - what's going to happen when this man hits New York?' 

"The hot show in New York in those days - the two hot shows - were Willie and Ray - Willie Bryant and Ray Carroll, and the Symphony Sid Show [with Sid Torin]. When they heard that Alan Freed was coming, the panic was on. He took New York by storm and took the country by storm. His all-star rock shows at the Brooklyn Paramount are now legend."

Nite's Induction speech echoed Ertegun's reverence for Freed: "From that period of 1954 to 1959, with the stage shows, with the motion pictures, with the various things that he had to do to contribute and help so many black artists and performers really get their real due recognition, he did an awful lot for the industry. [Freed was] the man who took the phrase rock and roll, popularized it and made it what it is today."

In this clip, Freed's son, Lance Freed, accepts his father's Hall of Fame award and delivers a moving speech.

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