We connected with each and everyone of these people – real or in character – because they broke media ground…..
They held there own in a world that was resistant to change while at the same time embracing their talents.
And, they each are attributed with coining a phrase.
“And awaaaaay we go!” – Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners
“Vitameatavegamin” – Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy
“What?…..me worry?? Alfred E Neuman of Mad Magazine
“Rock ‘n’ Roll” – Alan “Moondog” Freed
When Alan Freed hit the air waves as “Moondog” in July 1951, black music was still known as “race music.” He rebelled against all previously thinking and did exactly what he thougth was right! Needless to say it was hard for the program directors to swallow what was happening. The audiences wanted to hear rhythm and blues by black artists – it was good for business. Many of the listeners thought he was black himself since his voice had a beat similar to that of the contagious music he played.
While Freed is attributed with coining the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll,” the phrase had actually been in use since the 1920’s. It was black slang – replacement for the offensive word for sex. It grew far beyond the slang and found its way the church. Gospel music made people swing and sway – “rockin’ and rollin’.” Alan Freed re-coined the phrase and used it to describe the new music he played on radio station WJW in Cleveland, Ohio. Guess it caught on, huh?!
Many say that this DJ held the first rock concert. The “Moondog Coronation” ball was scheduled for the Cleveland Arena. Over 20,000 mostly black fans crashed the gates of the 10,000 seat arena causing the event to be canceled.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Was On Its Way
In 1954 rock ‘n’ roll music hit the trade papers after Freed moved to WINS in New York and held a dance promoting black rock ‘n’ roll artists. Within a month after the dance rock ‘n’ roll advertising hit the trades. ABC-TV scheduled him for his own TV show but canceled it in 1957 after a white girl danced with black performer Frankie Lymon of the Teenagers. The southern affiliates were enraged!
His career started its downward spiral in 1958 when he was charged with inciting a riot at a show in Boston. WINS released him from his contract. After being forced to file bankruptcy, he moved on to WABC, but his troubles only worsened. 1959 brought the ASCAP investigation of deejays who were thought to be taking gifts from record companies in exchange for giving their records airplay. While many deejays were thought to be involved, the industry decided to focus on Freed. After refusing to sign a statement denying he had ever received payola, WABC fired him. He finally pleaded guilty to 29 counts of “commercial bribery”. His fine amounted to $300 and 6 months probation, but his career was over. No one in the industry would touch him after this.
Alan Freed, the man who brought us rock ‘n’ roll died penniless at the age of 43.