Alan Freed honored at Lake View Cemetery

Steve Van Zandt talking to the crowd about Alan Freed's impact on music.

More than 500 people turned out at Lake View Cemetery on May 7, to honor and celebrate the life of legendary deejay Alan Freed, the man who coined the term “rock and roll” and who produced the nation’s first rock concert, back in 1952. Freed’s ashes were interred at the cemetery.

Another legendary deejay and rock historian, Norm N. Nite, served as the emcee of the ceremony. “Alan Freed and rock and roll are synonymous,” Nite said in his opening comments. “Alan Freed changed the course of popular music.”

Freed began working at WJW-TV in Cleveland, after a couple of radio jobs in other cities. In 1951, Freed met Leo Mintz, who owned a Cleveland record store called Record Rendezvous. Mintz sold a lot of rhythm & blues records at his store and introduced Freed to the music. He also helped Freed get a job at WJW radio, where he became a popular Cleveland radio personality.

In 1952, Freed put together a concert at the Cleveland Arena called the Moondog Coronation Ball, which is now considered the first rock concert ever.

Freed died of kidney failure at the age of 43, in 1965. Originally, he was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, N.Y. In 2002, his ashes were moved to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, where they were part of an exhibit until August 2014, when Greg Harris took over as the Rock Hall's president and CEO. Harris called Freed’s son, Lance Freed, and asked that the ashes be removed from the museum.

“We decided that he should permanently come back home to Cleveland, where it all began,” Lance Freed said. “We thought historic and beautiful Lake View Cemetery was the right place to go, the right location for his final resting place. Our desire was to create a small public area and compelling monument where he will rest for eternity and be available for generations to come.”

Nite read proclamations from Ohio Governor John Kasich and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who both praised all that Freed accomplished over the course of his career. State Senator Kenny Yuko read a proclamation from the state of Ohio, and spoke about the impact rock and roll had on combating racism in this country. “Alan had a commitment to the exposure of this music, regardless of the color of the artists’ skin.”

Steve Van Zandt, who plays in Bruce Springsteen’s band, talked about Freed’s history in rock and roll and the impact he had on the music. “This site is a monument to Alan and to the rock era,” Van Zandt said. “Now there’s a place where all of us and all of the future generations can come to, so that we can say hello and goodbye.” Terry Stewart, a former president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, said, “Freed was special. He had drive, passion and a vision.”

The celebration included music, with performances by the Drifters, who, like Freed, are Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, and Jimmy Clanton, another American singer who became famous in the late 1950s.

Two of Freed’s children, Lance Freed and Siegie Freed, also spoke during the ceremony. After the music and the speeches were completed, a monument dedicated to Freed’s life was unveiled.

Kathy Goss, the president and CEO of the cemetery, gave a brief talk about its history. When it opened in 1869, it was one of the first rural garden cemeteries in the country. “We could not be more honored to have Alan Freed here,” she said.

James Henke

James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley. He is on the board of FutureHeights, and is co-chair of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee.

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Volume 9, Issue 6, Posted 5:13 PM, 05.31.2016