Many know that rock and roll was christened in Cleveland, Ohio, when DJ Alan Freed coined the phrase to describe the up-tempo R&B music he was beaming out on his popular radio show. Freed opened the doors for countless artists, and for years was the de facto king of rock and roll. But fewer know about the cadre of revolutionary Cleveland disc jockeys who shared the airwaves with Freed. Among them was Tommy Edwards.
Edwards, who owned a prominent record store, pressed records and was a disc jockey at WERE 1300 AM, was instrumental in bringing Elvis Presley to Cleveland in 1955 for his first performance north of the Mason-Dixon line. Pat Boone headlined the concert, and the supporting bill included Bill Haley and the Comets, the Four Lads, Priscilla Wright and a largely unknown Presley. It was there that Edwards snapped the famous photograph of Presley with Haley, one of the few times the two met. The show was not held in a grand concert hall or big-ticket venue, but in a suburb of Cleveland at Brooklyn High School. The now mythical performance is rumored to have been captured in vivid Technicolor, and dubbed The Pied Piper. Fans from around the globe consider it the Holy Grail of rock and roll, as it has never surfaced in the more than 50 years since it was recorded. One assiduous and ingenious sleuth who has searched for the film is Chris Kennedy, and while he hasn't yet found the film, he did uncover another treasure.
As a prominent deejay at WERE in Cleveland, Edwards enjoyed unprecedented access to rock, pop and country music’s biggest stars. Capturing artists as they visited WERE’s studios to plug their latest record, or at the many high school sock hops that he presented between 1955 and 1960, Edwards shot more than 1,700 color slides.
Edwards took these photographs at the height of his prominence, and they colorfully illustrate the extent of his genre-spanning influence in country, pop and, most important, rock and roll. While searching for The Pied Piper, Chris Kennedy discovered Edwards' collection of photos – all in glorious Ektachrome – and featured more than 200 of those images in his book, 1950s Radio In Color.
More than 30 of Edwards' incredible images will now be displayed as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's latest exhibit: 1950s Radio in Color: The Lost Photographs of Cleveland Deejay Tommy Edwards. More than a collection of pop star photographs, Edwards' images capture rare and intimate moments with some of the biggest names in 1950s music, film and television. In Edwards' heyday, he crossed paths with rockers including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran (pictured), as well as screen stars such as Michael Landon and Henry Fonda.
In the pantheon of great disc jockeys, Edwards was a singular presence – and he left the pictures to prove it. We're thrilled to have them on display at the Museum.