Newark's Role in Rock & Roll

by Nat Bodian


My Old Newark 'recollections' are read around the country and sometimes bring recommendations for additional Old Newark entries. Here is one I'd like to repeat with my detailed follow-up.

"Newark played an important role in the creation of rock and roll music. Alan Freed, a DJ from Cleveland is credited with coining the term "Rock and Roll" as a way of marketing rhythm and blues music by black artists to white audiences. The first 'rock and roll' concert was held by Freed in Cleveland in 1952. The first on the east Coast was in Newark in 1954."

Details on R&R's East Coast Debut Concert

Here are details on R&R's East Coast debut concert: 1954 was the year when the sound of rhythm and blues moved into the country's music mainstream. White teenagers began to listen and dance to music with the "Big Beat."

The prime mover in this trend was the Ohio-based Alan Freed. He had been gaining attention for his growing popularity in crossing racial and cultural lines in providing music that would ultimately displace ballad-singing crooners and the big band leftovers.

Freed's radio show in Cleveland was also heard via tape on radio station WNJR at 1430 on the dial in Newark1 and had won him a big following in the greater Newark radio listening area.

First Live R&R in East

In the spring of 1954, Freed announced his first show to be held in the East. It would be held on May 1st at the Newark Armory on Sussex Avenue. It was advertised locally as "The Mayday Moondog Coronation Ball." Featured artists would be The Clovers, The Harptones, Muddy Waters, and Charles Brown2.

The Armory show attracted a capacity crowd of 10,000, mostly teenagers. A later report stated that "thousands were unable to gain entrance."

The fact that about a fifth of the audience was white foretold the wave of the future for rock and roll.

Freed Moves East

On September 8, 1954, Freed moved his show from Cleveland to Radio Station WINS in New York City. the show was also syndicated to markets throughout the country, and played both in the early evening and late at night.

By the end of 1954, the Alan Freed radio show was the No. 1 rated program in the country for its early evening time slot.

Rock and Roll had arrived.


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