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Freed, Alan

FREED, ALAN

FREED, ALAN (1922–1965), U.S. disc jockey. Born in Salem, Ohio, Freed spent two years at Ohio State University, where he played the trombone and led the Sultans of Swing, a band named after a famous group in Harlem. After two years in the Army, Freed started a career in radio playing classical music. It was a far cry from his later years as the most important figure in the early years of rock'n' roll, an outgrowth of rhythm and blues usually associated with "race" music and black audiences. In 1950, Leo Mintz, the owner of a Cleveland record store, lured Freed to be host of a program on a station geared to young white listeners after he discovered that many white suburban youths were going to his store to buy recordings by black artists. Freed played those records on the show and he and the music became sensations. He called himself Moondog and in 1952, at the Moondog Coronation Ball, considered the first rock concert, 20,000 fans crashed the 10,000-seat capacity Cleveland Arena. The dance was canceled.

Moving to New York in 1954, Freed's career took off, even as he tangled with radio stations, television networks, and the music business over playing the so-called black music. He brought rock'n' roll into mainstream American society, a biographer wrote, "and he made a lot of enemies because of that. Here was this white guy bringing blacks and whites together to dance in the 1950s. It was unheard of." Freed's popularity over the air was matched on stage during school holidays, when he took over large movie palaces in Brooklyn and elsewhere and presented rock 'n' roll performers to mobs of youngsters. One such show, in Boston in 1958, resulted in Freed's arrest for anarchy and inciting to riot. The charges were later dropped. But Freed's "big beat" music was considerably less welcome afterward and a number of cities banned him altogether.

Freed's downfall came a few years later, when television quiz show scandals brought the subject of payola – the payment of fees by record producers to have their songs played on the air – into public view. Freed was charged with having taken bribes totaling $30,650 from six record companies for playing and promoting their releases on his program. In 1962 he pleaded guilty to part of the charge and received a six-month sentence, which was suspended, and a $300 fine. He then moved to the West Coast, where he lived quietly.

In 1986, at the inaugural ceremonies for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Freed was inducted posthumously. It was not an accident that the hall was built in Cleveland.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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