Carl’s Commentary
The Most Terrible Ball Of Them All!,” started it all, at Alan Freed’s 1952 Moondog Coronation Ball.

History is sketchy about Alan Freed’s early years in radio. We do not know when he actually started broadcasting on Cleveland radio station WJW. However, on July 11, 1951, for the first time, Cleveland’s major newspaper,
The Plain Dealer, mentioned Alan Freed’s name and radio station WJW together. No musical format was mentioned. It certainly wasn’t rhythm ’n’ blues. Yet, within four months, by November 14, 1951, Alan Freed was “The Moondog” playing rhythm ’n’ blues music. How do we know that? The Plain Dealer mentioned Alan Freed and his show, The Moondog House.1
Still, we do not know why Alan Freed underwent this rapid radio-career transformation. Was this Freed’s brainchild or someone else’s? History doesn’t tell us why a 29 year old, white disk jockey would choose to play segregated music (rhythm ’n’ blues) to a segregated audience (African-Americans) from 11:15 PM ~ 1:00 AM? This was not a viable career path to fame and fortune in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1950s.
Freed knew his audience would be African-American when he started programming rhythm ‘n’ blues music late at night. But Freed did not know the size of this audience or his own popularity. Three days before the Moondog Ball, he “… had drawn a black crowd to a small dance at Myers Lake Park, outside the city of Cleveland on Euclid Avenue…he was nonetheless astounded by its size…”2
Folklore, “…an often unsupported notion, story, or saying that is widely circulated…” must not be mistaken for fact. (Merriam~Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition, Springfield, Massachusetts, 2009, p. 486) Contrary to conventional wisdom, Freed’s radio audience, for all intents and purposes, was strictly African-American, comprising both adults and older teens.Who else would be listening to this segregated music? Certainly not Cleveland’s white population. How do we know this?
During the school week, few of Cleveland’s black or white young-teen, school-age children, would have been permitted to listen to Alan Freed’s Moondog House from 11:15 PM – 1:00 AM. By 11:15 PM, their households were already fast asleep. Both parents and children had to get up early to go to work and school, respectively. Furthermore, how many Cleveland parents would allow their young children to attend a Friday night dance that didn’t start until 10:00 PM and ended at 2:00 AM? Alan Freed was not on their minds.
Did any white people attend Freed’s Coronation Ball? The short answer is no. The dance made the papers when 6,000 people tried to crash the event. The crowd’s ethnicity was never mentioned. The newspaper account described the people as, “…persons,…a crowd,…The frustrated,…a confined mass of humanity,…they…” The words “teenagers,” “youths,” “young people,” “whites” never appeared in the newspaper account. Why not? The Coronation Ball attendees were African-American adults and some older African-American teens. This conclusion is supported by Peter Hastings’ photographic evidence. Assigned to photograph the Coronation Ball, Hastings snapped two photographs, and left the Arena. These two photographs do not show any white people. As noted journalist Tom Junod observed, “…There are no white faces evident in the picture…”3 Three days before the Moondog Ball, Freed held a small dance at Myers Lake Park. Again, the attendees were exclusively African- American. How do we know this? Photographic evidence of the Myers Lake Park event supported this conclusion. (Jane Scott, 30 Years ago, ‘Moon Dog’ howled’ The Plain Dealer, March 14, 1982, pages 1-D, 12-D. The photograph in question may be found on page 12-D. )
During this period, there were plenty of Cleveland clubs featuring live rhythm ‘n’ blues music: Club Congo, Cotton Club, Ebony Lounge, Gleason’s Musical Bar, Loop Lounge and more. Galen Gart, Rhythm & Blues in Cleveland 1955 Edition, Big Nickel Publications, 2003 The Circle Theater presented live rhythm ’n’ blues shows without alcohol. Although white adults may have preferred a club setting, entertainment and drinks, instead of  the Cleveland Arena, most white adults did not even patronize these club venues. Alan Freed’s brother, David, remarked, “…We could go into black bars like Gleason’s, where most white men could not get within one hundred yards of the place,…”5

Based on all of the above information, Alan Freed had no white, Cleveland fan base and he didn’t care. According to Bill Randle, Cleveland’s top pop disk jockey at the time, “…He was very satisfied to have the black audience in Cleveland. He didn’t get the white audience until he went to New York…”
4
In 1952, Philip H. Ennis was part of a research team hired by Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI). The project dealt with disc jockeys and their importance in making hits. In late 1952, Philip Ennis spent two days interviewing the above mentioned, 29 year old Bill Randle, from radio station WERE.

By now, Alan Freed’s March 21, 1952 Moondog Coronation Ball was a thing of the past. According to Ennis, it was ironic that, “… Alan Freed, just down the street in a competing radio station, was neither on our list of ‘important’ disk jockeys nor on the list of ‘average’ disk jockeys, nor was he mentioned to me by Bill Randle…There I was in the city of rocknroll’s (sic) founding, and I didn’t find the founder…“6 Clearly, in this case, race trumped irony. Freed’s musical format and audience guaranteed his exclusion from both lists.

In closing, I am reminded of Ralph Ellison’s words, “…I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me…”
7 1952 was not the year Popular music discovered rhythm ’n’ blues music. Rhythm ‘n’ blues remained a segregated music like its audience.
  1. February 26, 2016, Alan Freed biographer, John A. Jackson, in a telephone conversation shared his Alan Freed timeline with me for the above two dates.
  2. Jackson, John A., Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll, New York, Schirmer Books, 1991, p.1, 2.
  3. Junod, Tom, Oh, What A Night!, LIFE, December 1, 1992,Vol. 15, No. 13, page 37.
  4. Coleman, Rick, Blue Monday: Fats Domino And The Lost Dawn Of Rock ’N’ Roll, Cambridge, MA, Da Capo Press, 2006, p. 95.
  5. Smith, Wes, The Pied Pipers of Rock ’n’ Roll: Radio Deejays of the 50s and 60s, Marietta, Georgia, Longstreet Press, 1989, p. 174.
  6. Ennis, Philip H., The Seventh Stream: The Emergence of Rocknroll in American Popular Music, Hanover, New Hampshire, Wesleyan University Press, 1992 p. 12.
  7. Ellison, Ralph, Invisible Man, New York, Vintage Books, 1995, p 3.
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Friday night, March 21,1952 was Alan Freed’s Moondog Coronation Ball. 6,000 people without tickets crashed the event.

Saturday night, March 22, 1952. Listen to Alan Freed, as he explained what went wrong
at his Moondog Coronation Ball.
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ALAN FREED

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