CLEVELAND (AP) — The ashes of Alan Freed, a seminal figure in the history of modern music, have found a permanent home in Cleveland, where Freed coined the term rock ‘n’ roll and organized what is considered the genre’s first concert more than 60 years ago.
A monument will be unveiled Saturday at the city’s Lake View Cemetery during a ceremony to celebrate Freed’s colorful and tumultuous life. Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band and others will speak about Freed’s legacy.
While a DJ in Cleveland during the early 1950s, Freed took his initial steps to synthesize a new musical form that blended jazz, blues, pop, rhythm and blues, and country music into what’s known today as rock ‘n’ roll.
Freed died in Los Angeles in 1965 at age 43 of liver failure. His son, Lance, said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press that his family moved back East after Freed’s death and that his ashes were interred at a cemetery in New York, where they remained for 30 years.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, built there in part because of Freed, eventually asked to bury the ashes outside the museum as part of a cornerstone. Those plans were thwarted by a city law that says human remains can be buried only in a cemetery.
An urn containing the ashes spent time beneath an escalator inside the museum before they were put on display around 2002. Freed’s family was asked to take the urn back in 2014 after a new chief executive decided the display was inappropriate.
After nearly two years in a vault at Lake View, the urn was buried at a gravesite Friday.
Lance Freed, who’s in the music business in Los Angeles, thinks his father has found a home.
“We will have a celebration and finally take him off the road and lay him to rest,” he said.
Born near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1921, Alan Freed’s family moved to Salem, Ohio, near Youngstown, when he was 12. Freed found his calling in radio while a student at Ohio State and worked at stations in Pennsylvania, Youngstown and Akron before landing a job in Cleveland, where he promoted popular rhythm and blues artists on his “Moondog Show.” It’s also where he applied the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll” — slang for sex in the black community — to music.
Freed organized what is considered the first rock ‘n’ roll concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball, at Cleveland Arena in 1952. A dance show featuring R&B artists, it was shut down when 20,000 people without tickets showed up and tried to crash the party.
A chastened Freed apologized for the mayhem he helped cause, but the show caught the attention of the entertainment world and propelled Freed to New York City, where he hosted a late-night radio show called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party.”
He began taking both black and white artists on the road for popular shows and appeared in a handful of rock ‘n’ roll-themed movies.
One of Freed’s most enduring legacies was his effort to promote music across color lines. It drew the ire of the white establishment, which accused him of promoting “race mixing” and lascivious behavior.
Freed’s career was ruined by a payola scandal that sullied people throughout the music industry.
Lance Freed said that he hosted civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks at his Los Angeles home in the 1990s and that she told him his father had broken down racial barriers. Alan Freed saw rock ‘n’ roll as an amalgam of musical influences, his son said.
“There was a freedom in the music,” Lance Freed said. “There weren’t any rules. And if it was good, it could become successful. It was the American dream.”