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Arts & Culture

Alan Freed's Ashes Finally Have a Resting Place

photo of Freed memorial
KABIR BHATIA
/
WKSU

The Cleveland D.J. credited with popularizing the term “rock and roll” in the 1950s has been honored with a permanent memorial at Lakeview Cemetery. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports on the memorial for the man credited both as a musical and civil rights pioneer.

Even a half-century after his death, Alan Freed’s impact is still being felt. On Saturday hundreds of people attended a ceremony at Lakeview Cemetery to honor his legacy with the unveiling of a new monument dedicated to him. The jukebox-shaped marble slab has an image of an old-time jukebox on one side and information about Freed on the other.

He was a charter inductee of the Rock Hall and, until 2014, his ashes were on display inside. That’s when officials said the museum was not an appropriate place for human remains, and they asked Freed’s son to remove them. Lance Freed reflected on that moment at Saturday’s dedication.

“I was very angry and we didn’t know what to do. But there was no other place to go. This is home. And this is the city that embraced him first. This is the epicenter for rock and roll.”

Coming home
On Saturday, Freed brought his father’s ashes home to Lakeview Cemetery on the east side. During the ceremony, Freed remembered his father’s uncanny ear.

photo of Lance Freed
Credit KABIR BHATIA / WKSU
/
WKSU
Since 2014, Alan Freed's son, Lance, has been on a mission to bring his father's ashes "home" after they were removed from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“On Sunday afternoons, he would bring home all the 45's that he had received during the week. And Alana, my sister, and I would open those 45's and stack them up. Sometimes there were as many as 80 singles. He’d put each one of them on the record player and listen to 6, 8, 12 bars of each one. Most of them he’d fling across the room like a Frisbee. Every once in a while, one went into the ‘maybe’ pile. And I remember one particular record he said, ‘this one’s going on the radio tomorrow.’”

That record was “In the Still of the Night” by The Five Satins, one of many songs Freed helped become a hit.

Up and down the dial
His career started in Pennsylvania before he moved to Akron, then Cleveland and then New York City in 1954. For five years, he was a major force in the industry with his radio show, a TV show, music publishing interests, a sideline promoting rock shows and even appearances in several films. But he was fired from WINS radio in 1959 over allegations of payola. His TV show was canceled when a black singer was seen dancing with a white girl in the audience. He moved to California in 1960, where the station he was working for refused to allow him to promote concerts. And although he never again attained the prominence he enjoyed in Cleveland or New York, by then rock and roll was here to stay. Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band was the keynote speaker at Saturday’s memorial.

“Rock and roll was not inevitable, and neither was civil rights. It was the obsession of great individuals that caused both of these revolutions to take place. And Alan Freed was one of those revolutionaries doing both, simultaneously. He played black records for white kids and changed the world for the better. And our country crucified him for his accomplishments. But he sure got the last laugh.”

Van Zandt noted that Alan Freed was not the first DJ to play so-called “race records” for white audiences.

“Alan’s taste and content were only half the story. It was something new he introduced: enthusiasm. And his enthusiasm was color-blind.”

photo of Steven Van Zandt
Credit KABIR BHATIA / WKSU
/
WKSU
Steven Van Zandt (right) was the keynote speaker at the ceremony, and said Alan Freed was a musical and civil rights revolutionary. Rock historian Norm N. Nite (left) emceed the ceremony, and said the honor for Freed was long overdue.

Grateful fans
Lance Freed remembers his father at home playing everything from opera to The Drifters. The latest incarnation of that group performed at the ceremony and includes baritone Early Clover.

“I’m very grateful for Alan Freed and all the things that he contributed to rock and roll. Getting it established. His stand that he took to manifest it to a reality. Had there been no Alan Freed, there wouldn’t be no rock and roll. There would not be the kind of music industry that has pioneered the kind of music that we hear and sing today.”

Rock historian Norm N. Nite emceed the event.

"It's well overdue because this is where it began for him. This will be a lasting memorial that people from all over the world will be coming to see."

Musician and local D.J. Michael Stanley grew up in Cleveland and remembers the concert, as well as the store which helped Freed put it together.

"I remember buying records at Record Rendezvous with Leo Mintz. I remember the concert. I was small, but at the same time it was like, 'oh my God, they had a riot there. Something's going on here and I think I want to be a part of this.'"

At Saturday’s ceremony, Alan Freed’s son, Lance, said the memorial was a way for the world to remember where rock and roll started.

“When my father was alive, he was on-the-road a lot. After his passing in 1965, he continued to be on-the-road: his cremated remains traveled from California to New York and then to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and for 51 years, he moved around. So Dad, what I want to say to you is: ‘welcome home.’”