The True Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll and The Alan Freed Moondog Coronation Ball 

Submitted by Rob Durkee, Author, “American Top 40: The Countdown Of The Century”

On March 21, way back in 1952, rock and roll music was close to being born…but suffered its first setback. However, the setback would turn into a win eventually.

 “The Alan Freed Moondog Coronation Ball” was a concert of acts performing what the pioneer DJ Alan Freed coined “rock and roll” music at the Cleveland Arena. March 21, 1952 was a Friday night. The event turned into an unmitigated disaster.

 That’s because there were as many counterfeit tickets sold as legitimate ones. When some 22,000 people tried to cram into a building meant to hold only about 12,000, a full-scale riot erupted. Extra police had to be called along with firemen who’d use their hoses to break up the mess. To escape injury, Freed had to be hoisted via a rope to the upper level announcer’s booth. 

 In what would become his (IMO) greatest story, “American Top 40” legend Casey Kasem noted, “For the next two days, while the Chief of Police, the Mayor and the Fire Chief were all screaming for his head, Alan Freed was nowhere to be found. And then, Monday night at 7 o’clock, he walked into his studio at WJW unannounced to host his regular program. For 30 minutes, he just talked, explaining about the counterfeit tickets, and expressing his deep regrets for the confusion…and his sympathies for the people who were injured. 

 “And I guess Freed must’ve been very convincing…because the next morning, all the charges brought against him were dropped. And two months later, the city of Cleveland rented him the arena for another event, that went off without a hitch…part of the legend of rock and roll.”

 In later years, Casey would tell more of the story on a late-night TV show. He told how then-Cleveland mayor Thomas A. Burke totally got it. That is, he understood the disaster and how much he wanted to right a wrong. As Casey pointed out, Burke reached Freed on the phone and in a very friendly way he pretty much told Freed, “Come on down to my office when you get the chance.” By the way, that airport near the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame…and the Cleveland Browns’ stadium…is Burke Lakefront Airport. It was named after Burke when he helped create it in 1947.

 Meanwhile, the Dominoes were on the original Coronation Ball agenda…and this was their biggest hit from the spring of 1951…and the biggest R&B chart single ever when it spent 14 weeks at #1 on the Cashbox charts.

Dominoes – Sixty Minute Man

 P.S. Alan Freed didn’t invent the term “Rock and roll.” He popularized it. Big difference…because in another story Casey often told, there was a 78 single release in 1934 by the Boswell Sisters ENTITLED “Rock And Roll.” 

 By the mid-1990’s, the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame would open in Cleveland.