* Field is required

The Underground Garage: Home / Little Steven / Essays and Speeches / Alan Freed Memorial Dedication
A+ R A-

Alan Freed Memorial Dedication

Alan Freed Memorial Dedication
May 7, 2016 Lake View Cemetery
Cleveland, Ohio

First of all I am honored to be here today. I am honored to call Lance Freed one of my best friends. And honored that he asked me to participate in this sacred ceremony. And for those of us whose religion is Rock and Roll, I do mean sacred.
Aldon James "Alan" Freed born
Dec 15, 1921 Windber, Penn.    
Grew up in Salem, Ohio where he played trombone in a band he called the Sultans Of Swing.
I'll do a brief bullet point history of his amazing career and then I want to say just a few words.
'42 WKST New Castle, Penn.
'43 WKBN Youngstown
'45 WAKR Akron
'50 WXEL brief first TV experience in Cleveland
'51 Hooks up with Leo Mintz who has the Record Rendezvous store that will sponsor Alan as he begins his historic run on WJW July 11.
Uses Moondog Symphony as a theme and temporarily becomes the Moondog.
'52 March 13 Rock and Roll becomes as a gamechanger and an industry at the Moondog Coronation Ball, right here at the Cleveland Arena. The show is considered the first Rock and Roll show.
'53 Car accident. Given 10 years to live which he beat by about two years.
'53 The first Rock and Roll show led to the first Rock and Roll Tour, the "Biggest R&B Show" featuring Ruth Brown, Wynonie Harris, Clovers, Joe Louis and Band (!), the Lester Young Combo, and the Buddy Johnson's Orchestra.
It went from Revere, Mass. to New Orleans July 9 for a month with shows every day.
'54 Tape of Alan's Cleveland show runs on WNJR Newark which brings him to NY.
'54 WINS Make his biggest impact.
'56-'59 the RR movies
'57 First national RR TV show, yes before American Bandstand, until Frankie Lymon jumps off stage and dances with a white girl which got the show cancelled.
All that stuff you can look up.
But here's the thing.
What's important to understand, is that Rock and Roll was not inevitable.
And black music in general crossing over to the white world in a very segregated society was not inevitable.
Let me try and explain it this way.  
Our ability as a species to adapt is one of our strongest characteristics. When bad things happen we adjust. Difficult circumstances, we adapt.
But adjusting so readily can be a bad thing in one sense. When something good happens we adapt to that also and almost immediately take it for granted.
Suddenly history becomes inevitable.
Well I don't believe in inevitability when it comes to history.
And not when it comes to greatness.
And Alan was plenty of both.
In my opinion, history is determined by individual greatness, complemented by other individuals seeking the same goals. Teamwork by the common vision of individuals.
Greatness isn't born. There may be an element of luck involved in terms of circumstance and DNA, but mostly, greatness comes from hard work and craft and endurance and dedicated focus.    
And yes an essential element is a strong ego. And with that a pretty healthy dose of selfishness and stubbornness.
Not always the best recipe for a family man. For being there when your family and friends want you to be.
But I do believe for some there is a higher calling. A vision that few others see. A drive to accomplish something that most would think cannot be accomplished. To reach for greatness. And that drive often becomes obsession.
Flaws and all.
Those visionaries do the best they can for their family and friends. They really do. I truly believe that. Certainly in Alan's case. After that, all they an do is hope for some understanding.
As I said, Rock and Roll was not inevitable, and neither was Civil Rights. It was the obsession of great individuals that caused both of those revolutions to take place. And Alan Freed was one of those revolutionaries doing both simultaneously.
As I've said many times in the past, he played black records for white kids and changed the world for the better forever and our country crucified him for it.
But he sure got the last laugh.
There's some evidence right down the street called the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
Evidence of far less importance but evidence none the less,  would be...me.
Personally, my life has been dedicated to chasing greatness. Studying it. Seeking it out. Supporting it when I find it. And creating it when I can.
Alan Freed was the first to set the standards we all aspire to. He has been one of my heroes and role models most of my adult life. Good and bad.
I've done 738 weekly radio shows and thanked him at the end of every one.
I've mostly made my living playing Rock and Roll and I've never taken it for granted. I don't even take the existence of Rock and Roll for granted. Especially now that Rock and Roll has returned to the cult it was when Alan found it in 1951.
But Alan's taste and content was only half the story.
There were probably a dozen white DJs playing R&B before him, but he's the one who sold it.  
And he did it all with a cowbell and a phonebook.
There was something new he introduced. It was called enthusiasm. And his enthusiasm was color blind.
Rock and Roll will live on forever in some form or other.
Just like Blues and Jazz and Gospel, Bluegrass, and Soul Music, our craft begins with live performance so we don't need a music industry to survive.
But we must acknowledge the Rock Era that Alan started is over.
So this site will be a monument to both Alan and the Rock Era we lucky ones grew up in.
Terry Cashman and Tom West wrote a song about Alan you may not be familiar with, called the King Of Rock And Roll.
As a song it's, well let's just say it has a lot of heart. But it does have one great line.
"It's a shame the way we decided to say goodbye"
Let me say that again.
"It's a shame the way we decided to say goodbye"
Well today, at least partially, fixes that.
And now there will be a place where all of us, and future generations, can say goodbye.    
And hello.