If you love rock and roll music or enjoy listening to the radio, the name Alan Freed may be familiar to you.
While he had his troubles, Freed etched his legacy into music history. From a military DJ to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his journey is a fascinating one.
Join us as we discover more about the man considered to be the father of rock and roll.
Let’s get rocking!
The Story of Alan Freed
Originally from Pennsylvania, Alan Freed graduated from high school in Ohio in 1940. Around this time, he formed a band called the Sultans of Swing, in which he played trombone. Freed attended Ohio State University for two quarters before enlisting in the military.
During World War II, he worked as a disc jockey for the U.S. Army. When the veteran returned from service, he began broadcasting for small radio stations. Freed became famous for his personality and music selection on the station WAKR in Akron, Ohio.
He went by the nickname Moondog, and his show became so popular that he could make or break an album depending on how much airtime he gave it. By the mid-50s, listeners could tune in to Moondog’s show for up to five hours every day of the week.
Freed furthered the reach of rock and roll with several television appearances throughout the 1950s. Notably, he starred in the 1956 film Rock Around the Clock with Bill Haley & His Comets and The Platters.
Sadly, Alan Freed met an untimely death in 1965 at the age of 43.
Why Is Alan Freed Known as the Father of Rock and Roll?
Today, many music lovers consider Alan Freed the father of rock and roll. Though Billboard Magazine coined the genre term in 1946, he popularized it in the 1950s on his mainstream radio show.
Notably, Freed became one of the only white DJs who advocated for music by Black artists known as rhythm and blues (R&B). The Billboard charts only allowed white bands in their rock and roll category. They created the R&B chart to keep Black musicians and bands separate.
Moondog gave airtime to great tunes, regardless of Billboard’s classification. This helped many teenagers across America begin to support integration efforts.
In the 1956 film Rock Rock Rock Freed said, “rock and roll is a river of music which has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, ragtime, cowboy songs…all have contributed to the big beat.”
Moondog’s Coronation Ball
If you’ve visited Cleveland, Ohio, you’ve probably been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock Hall features rotating historical and modern exhibits about the world’s best rockers. It was built in Cleveland largely because of Moondog’s Coronation Ball in 1952.
Freed had been holding local record hops and dances for a few years when he decided to put on a big show, the biggest party that rock and roll had ever seen. It took place at the Cleveland Arena, which had 8,600 seats. When over 25,000 eager listeners showed up, the fire marshall evacuated the building and called an end to the show.
Moondog rebooked the concert a few weeks later and kept better track of ticket sales. The do-over event was a great success. Freed then took his popular show on the road. It drew racially mixed crowds, which was controversial at the time. Moondog’s Coronation Ball has been widely considered to be the first real rock concert.
Why Did Alan Freed’s Career End?
As mentioned earlier, Freed could guarantee an album’s success if he played it on his show. Record companies began to pay Moondog for airtime. Some artists even listed the DJ as a co-writer of songs so he’d receive royalties for airplay. This led to a payola scandal, and Freed pleaded guilty to commercial bribery.
Prior to the accusations, he’d created his own television show called Big Beat. When charged with bribery, he riled up the audience by saying, “it looks like the Boston police don’t want you to have a good time.” The cops arrested Freed for inciting a riot, and his career came to an abrupt end.
Moondog moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1960 where he worked as a DJ for a small radio station. He owed the IRS nearly $40,000 for tax evasion and eventually passed away from complications of alcoholism in 1965. Alan Freed never had the opportunity to restore his reputation.
Was Alan Freed Inducted Into the Hall of Fame?
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame resides in Alan Freed’s home state of Ohio, partly because of his contributions to the genre. Fortunately, his monumental advancements in rock and roll weren’t entirely overshadowed by his slip-ups. In 1986, Freed became a member of the inaugural class of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He’s also received several other prestigious awards since his death. In 1988 the Radio Hall of Fame admitted Freed. That same year, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame honored him as well. In addition, Moondog earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991.
In recent years, journalists and DJs have continued to honor Freed. Despite his tragic fall from grace, he played a vital role in developing the top 40 radio format as we know it.
An Influential Figure
Freed wore many hats during his lifetime. He was a U.S. Army Veteran, a game-changing disc jockey, and a concert promoter.
Today, we remember him as the father of rock and roll. Not only did he popularize the genre by promoting it on his show, but he also helped integrate it by playing R&B alongside rock and roll. He might’ve had his troubles, but that’s not too uncommon in the rock music world.
Did you listen to Alan Freed’s radio show or attend his Coronation Ball? Tell us about the experience in the comments!