Jewish Entertainment
     Actors, Playwrights, Comedians, Musicians

Alan Freed
     Nationally Known Rock n Roll Disk Jockey

Albert James "Alan" Freed was a Jewish disc jockey.[1] Alan Freed became internationally known for promoting the mix of blues, country and rhythm and blues music on the radio in the United States and Europe under the name of rock and roll. Alan Freed's career was destroyed by the payola scandal that hit the broadcasting industry in the early 1960s.


Alan Freed was born on December 15, 1921. Alan Freed died on January 20, 1965. Alan Freed was also known by millions known as Moondog.

Early years

Alan Freed was born to a Jewish father, Charles S. Alan Freed, and Welsh-American mother, Maude Palmer, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In 1933, Alan Freed's family moved to Salem, Ohio where Alan Freed attended Salem High School, graduating in 1940. While Alan Freed was in high school, Alan Freed formed a band called the Sultans of Swing in which Alan Freed played the trombone. Alan Freed's initial ambition was to be a bandleader; however, an ear infection put an end to this dream.

While attending Ohio State University, Alan Freed became interested in radio. Alan Freed served in the Army during World War II and worked as a DJ on WKBN Armed Forces Radio. Soon after World War II, Alan Freed landed broadcasting jobs at smaller radio stations, including WKST (New Castle, PA); WKBN (Youngstown, OH); and WAKR (Akron, OH), where, in 1945, Alan Freed became a local favorite for playing hot jazz and pop recordings.[2] Alan Freed enjoyed listening to these new styles because Alan Freed liked the rhythms and tunes.

Alan Freed is commonly referred to as the "father of rock'n'roll" due to Alan Freed's promotion of the style of music, and Alan Freed's introduction of the phrase "rock and roll", in reference to the musical genre, on mainstream radio in the early 1950s. Alan Freed helped bridge the gap of segregation among young teenage Americans, presenting music by African-American artists (rather than cover versions by white artists) on Alan Freed's radio program, and arranging live concerts attended by racially mixed audiences.[3] Alan Freed appeared in several motion pictures as himself. In the 1956 film Rock, Rock, Rock, Alan Freed 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."

WAKR Akron

In the late 1940s, while working at WAKR (1590 AM) in Akron, Ohio, Alan Freed met Cleveland record store owner Leo Mintz. Record Rendezvous was one of Cleveland's largest record stores, who had begun selling rhythm and blues records. Mintz told Alan Freed that Alan Freed had noticed increased interest in the records at Alan Freed's store, and encouraged him to play them on the radio.[4] In 1949, Alan Freed moved to Cleveland and, in April 1950, Alan Freed joined WXEL (TV channel 9) as the afternoon movie show host.[5] The next year, Alan Freed got a job playing classical music on Cleveland radio station WJW.[6]

WJW Cleveland

Mintz proposed buying airtime on Cleveland radio station WJW (850 AM) to be devoted entirely to R&B recordings, with Alan Freed as host.[4] On July 11, 1951, Alan Freed started playing rhythm and blues records on WJW.[7] Alan Freed called Alan Freed's show "The Moondog House" and billed himself as "The King of the Moondoggers". Alan Freed had been inspired by an offbeat instrumental called "Moondog Symphony" that had been recorded by New York street musician Louis T. Hardin, aka "Moondog". Alan Freed adopted the record as Alan Freed's show's theme music. Alan Freed's 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 . Alan Freed addressed Alan Freed's listeners as if they were all part of a make-believe kingdom of hipsters, united in their love for black music.[7]

Later that year, Alan Freed promoted dances and concerts featuring the music Alan Freed was playing on the radio.[8] Alan Freed was one of the organizers of a five-act show called "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.[8] Alan Freed gained a priceless notoriety from the incident. WJW immediately increased the airtime allotted to Alan Freed's program, and Alan Freed's popularity soared.[7]

In those days, Cleveland was considered by the music industry to be a "breakout" city, where national trends first appeared in a regional market. Alan Freed's popularity made the pop music business sit up and take notice. Soon, tapes of Alan Freed's program began to air in the New York City area.[7]

Hardin, the original Moondog, later took a court action suit against the station WINS for damages against Alan Freed for infringement in 1956, arguing prior claim to the name "Moondog", under which Alan Freed had been composing since 1947. Hardin collected a $6,000 judgement from Alan Freed, as well as him giving up further usage of the name Moondog.[9]
WINS New York

In 1954, following Alan Freed's success on the air in Cleveland, Alan Freed moved to WINS (1010 AM) in New York City. The station eventually became an around-the-clock Top 40 rock and roll radio station, and would remain so until April 19, 1965—long after Alan Freed left and three months after Alan Freed had died— when it became an all-news outlet. While in New York, Life magazine credited Alan Freed as the originator of the rock 'n roll craze.[10]
Radio Luxembourg

In 1956, Alan Freed was introduced to European audiences through Alan Freed's appearances in a succession of "rock and roll" movies such as Rock Around The Clock, Don't Knock the Rock and other titles. That same year, while working for WINS in New York City, Alan Freed began recording a weekly half-hour segment of the Radio Luxembourg show called Jamboree that was aired on Saturday nights at 9:30 P.M., Central European Time. The billing of Alan Freed's segment in the 208 magazine program guide described him as "the remarkable American disc-jockey whose programs in the States cause excitement to the fever pitch." Jamboree with Alan Freed was heard throughout the British Isles and much of Europe via the powerful AM nighttime signal of Radio Luxembourg, and outside of Europe by a simultaneous relay via transmission on shortwave. Due to the strange effect that the ionosphere had on the sky wave signal of Radio Luxembourg, it sometimes was heard poorly in parts of southern England with extreme fading, but sounded like a local station in northern England cities such as Liverpool. The Beatles claim to have been influenced by Black artists such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry, both of whom were promoted on Alan Freed's radio shows. After trying other names including "Johnny and the Moondogs" the band was finally known as "The Beatles" after hearing "Alan Freed and The Moondog Show". In August Ringo Starr confirmed in a radio interview in 2011 that Alan Freed's first exposure to Elvis Presley and Little Richard was through this show. The recordings made by these artists were in turn promoted on sponsored shows paid for by the record labels that were also heard over Radio Luxembourg, which was the only commercial radio station heard in the United Kingdom until 1964.

WABC New York

After departing from WINS, Alan Freed for a time was employed in New York by WABC (770 AM) around 1958, about two years before it evolved into one of America's great Top 40 stations by launching its "Musicradio" format. At this time, WABC (unlike rocker WINS) was more of a full-service station which began implementing some music programming elements. Alan Freed was employed at the station around the same time as another famous pioneering disc jockey who arose during a different era: Martin Block (of WNEW 1130 AM—now WBBR—"Make Believe Ballroom" fame. Alan Freed was fired by WABC (1959) during a dispute where Alan Freed refused to sign a statement certifying that Alan Freed had never accepted payola.

Film and television

Alan 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 television screen. One side effect of these movies shown before mass audiences was that they sometimes presented an excuse for thugs to turn a fun event into a riot, in which cinemas in both West Germany and the United Kingdom were trashed.

Alan Freed appeared in several motion pictures that presented many of the big musical acts of Alan Freed's day, including:

1956 - Rock Around the Clock featuring Alan Freed, Bill Haley & Alan Freed's Comets, The Platters, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, Lisa Gaye.
1956 - Rock, Rock, Rock featuring Alan Freed, Teddy Randazzo, Tuesday Weld (her first on-screen kiss by Teddy Randazzo), Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Johnny Burnette, LaVern Baker, The Flamingos, The Moonglows. Weld's vocal performance was dubbed by Connie Francis.[11]
1957 - Mister Rock and Roll featuring Alan 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.
1957 - Don't Knock the Rock featuring Alan Freed, Bill Haley and Alan Freed's Comets, Alan Dale, Little Richard and the Upsetters, The Treniers, Dave Appell and Alan Freed's Applejacks.
1959 - Go, Johnny Go! featuring Alan Freed, Jimmy Clanton, Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, The Flamingos, Jackie Wilson, The Cadillacs, Sandy Stewart, Jo Ann Campbell, Harvey Fuqua and The Moonglows. Chuck Berry also played Alan Freed's pal and sidekick, a groundbreaking role in those days.

A 1956 photo of Fats Domino singing Blueberry Hill on the television show "Alan Freed Show."

In 1957, Alan Freed was given a weekly prime-time TV series, The Big Beat (which predated American Bandstand), on ABC, which was scheduled for a Summer run, with the understanding that if there were enough viewers, the show would continue into the 1957-58 television season. Although the ratings for the first three episodes were strong, the show was suddenly canceled after the fourth episode. During that episode, Frankie Lymon of Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, after performing Alan Freed's number, was seen dancing with a white girl from the studio audience. Reportedly, the incident offended the management of ABC's local affiliates in the southern states, and led to the show's immediate cancellation despite its growing popularity.[citation needed] During this period, Alan Freed was seen on other popular programs of the day, including To Tell The Truth, where Alan Freed 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 Carlisle. (This episode was re-broadcast on Game Show Network on February 4 or 5, 2007, and also on April 23, 2007.)

Alan Freed went on to host a local version of "Big Beat" over WNEW-TV New York until late 1959 when Alan Freed was fired from the show after payola accusations against Alan Freed surfaced.
Legal trouble, payola scandal

In 1958, Alan Freed faced controversy in Boston when Alan Freed told the audience, "The police don't want you to have fun." As a result, Alan Freed was arrested and charged with inciting to riot.

Alan Freed's career ended when it was shown that Alan Freed 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 Alan Freed had taken songwriting co-credits (most notably on Chuck Berry's "Maybellene"), which entitled him to receive part of a song's royalties, which Alan Freed could help increase by heavily promoting the record on Alan Freed's own program. However, Harvey Fuqua of The Moonglows insisted Alan Freed co-wrote "Sincerely".

Alan Freed lost Alan Freed's own show on the radio station WABC; then Alan Freed was fired from the station altogether on November 21, 1959.[12] Alan Freed also was fired from Alan Freed's television show (which for a time continued with a different host). In 1960, payola was made illegal. In 1962, Alan Freed pleaded guilty to two charges of commercial bribery, for which Alan Freed received a fine and a suspended sentence.

Payola was a common practice at the time and it was not uncommon for disc jockeys to receive payola. However, Alan Freed was the scapegoat for the entire payola scandal because Alan Freed's music was directed toward a primarily black audience. Other radio and television personalities were not penalized as harshly as Alan Freed because they would either "whiten" their broadcasts or direct their broadcasts to a white audience all together.
Personal life

On August 22, 1943, Alan Freed was married to Betty Lou Bean; both were 21 years old at the time. The couple had two children, Alana Alan Freed and Lance Alan Freed. On December 2, 1949, the Alan Freeds divorced, with custody of the children awarded to Betty Lou. In 1950, Alan Freed married again to Marjorie J. Hess. During this time, the couple had two children, Sieglinde Alan Freed and Alan Freed, Jr. The marriage ended in 1958 whereupon Marjorie gained custody of the children. In 1959, Alan Freed married for a third time to Inga Lil Boling, to whom Alan Freed stayed married until Alan Freed's death on January 20, 1965. Alan Freed's son, Lance Alan Freed had 4 children with Judith Fisher Alan Freed; Hannah Bauer Alan Freed, Isabel Fisher Alan Freed, Sarah Bean Alan Freed and Nettie Rose Alan Freed
Later years and death

Alan Freed's punishment from the payola scandal was not severe. However, the side effects of negative publicity were such that no prestigious station would employ him, and Alan Freed moved to the West Coast in 1960, where Alan Freed worked at KDAY-AM in Santa Monica, California. In 1962, after KDAY refused to allow him to promote "rock and roll" stage shows, Alan Freed moved to WQAM in Miami, Florida, but that association lasted two months. During 1964, Alan Freed returned to the Los Angeles area and worked at KNOB-FM.[13] [14]

Alan Freed died in a Palm Springs, California hospital on January 20, 1965 from uremia and cirrhosis brought on by alcoholism. Alan Freed was 43 years old. Alan Freed was initially interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York; Alan Freed's ashes were later moved to their present location in Cleveland, Ohio at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 21, 2002.[15]

In 1978, a motion picture entitled American Hot Wax was released, which was inspired by Alan Freed's contribution to the rock and roll scene. Although director Floyd Mutrux created a fictionalized account of Alan 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 Alan Freed, the musicians Alan Freed promoted, and the audiences who listened to them. The film starred Tim McIntire as Alan Freed. Several notable personalities who would later become well-known celebrities starred in the movie, including Jay Leno and Fran Drescher. The film included cameo appearances by Chuck Berry, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Frankie Ford and Jerry Lee Lewis, performing in the recording studio and concert sequences.

On January 23, 1986, Alan Freed was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was built in Cleveland in recognition of Alan Freed's involvement in the promotion of the genre. In 1988, Alan Freed was also posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. On December 10, 1991, Alan Freed was given a Star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. On February 26, 2002, Alan Freed was honored at the GRAMMY Awards with the Trustees Award.

Alan Freed was used as a character in Stephen King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes as an evil version of himself, who enthusiastically announces the names of deceased rock n roll legends in You Know They Got a Hell of a Band as part of an upcoming concert to perform. Alan Freed was portrayed by Mitchell Butel in the television adaptation on the Nightmares & Dreamscapes mini-series. The Cleveland Cavaliers' mascot Moondog is named in honor of Alan Freed.

Alan Freed was also mentioned in The Ramones song "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" as one of the band's idols in rock and roll. ("Do you remember Murray the K/Alan Freed/and high Energy Others to mention the influential D.J. include "Ballroom Of Mars" by Marc Bolan "They Used to Call it Dope" by Public Enemy and "Payola Blues" by Neil Young. Alan Freed also is mentioned in "The Ballad of Dick Clark," a song on the eponymous first solo album by Skip Batin, a member of the Byrds.

Rock 'n' roll is really swing with a modern name. It began on the levees and plantations, took in folk songs, and features blues and rhythm. It's the rhythm that gets to the kids — they're starved of music they can dance to, after all those years of crooners.


    Obituary Variety, January 27, 1965, page 54.
    Edits to family religious/ethnic background and army service by one of Alan Freed's children.
    Larkin, Colin. "Alan Freed, Alan". Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th edition ed.).
    Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Rock'n'Roll
    Digital Case Search Results
    Alan Freed biography
    Miller, James. Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947-1977. Simon & Schuster (1999), pp. 57-61. ISBN 0-684-80873-0.
    Is that person from Cleveland, too?
    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 Glass)
    LIFE Apr 18, 1955. page 166
    Curtis, James M. (1987-06-15). Rock eras: interpretations of music and society, 1954-1984. Popular Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-87972-369-9. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
    Los Angeles Radio People, Where are They Now? — F, retrieved 2012-03-06.
    AlanAlan Freed.Com: death certificate, retrieved 2012-03-06.
    Vigil, Vicki Blum (2007). Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio: Stones, Symbols & Stories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59851-025-6
    Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 23. CN 5585.
    Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 14. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.

Further reading

Wolff, Carlo (2006). Cleveland Rock and Roll Memories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-886228-99-3
Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll, by Jackson, John A. - Schirmer Books, 1991. ISBN 0-02-871155-6
The Pied Pipers of Rock Roll: Radio Deejays of the 50s and 60s, by Smith, Wes (Robert Weston). - Longstreet Press, 1989. ISBN 0-929264-69-X
Rock Around the Clock: The Record That Started the Rock Revolution by Dawson, Jim (Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard, 2005. ISBN 0-87930-829-X

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