Anniversary of the First Rock Show

(Gibson) The first rock and roll concert didn't have a light show. It didn't have a massive sound system or a smoke machine. Fans didn't hold up cigarette lighters or cell phones, and there was no t-shirt booth. There was no encore. In fact, only one song was even played. But it did light a fire in the hearts and feet of tens of thousands of teenagers and served as the opening shot of an unstoppable revolution in the history of popular music.

The Moondog Coronation Ball was the brainchild of Alan Freed, a Cleveland disc jockey who was making big waves on WJW radio in 1951. The 29-year-old Johnstown, Pennsylvania native had come to WJW in February 1951 as the host of a classical music show. But by July, clued in by a local record-store owner named Leo Mintz that kids were buying tons of traditionally black rhythm and blues music, Freed shifted to rhythm and blues and adopted a cool, fast-talking, on-air persona called the King of the Moondoggers. It may have stirred up a few fuddy-duddies in the white community, but the ratings didn't lie. The Ol' King of the Moondoggers was racking up big ratings and soon other stations were adopting similar formats.

With record sales and radio ratings up and kids all over town jumping and hopping to the music Freed was calling "rock and roll" — a slightly racy term that also referred to having sex in a moving automobile — Freed and Mintz thought it was time to take things to the next level. Working with a local promoter named Lew Platt, Freed planned a show that would take this music, that previously only existed in smoky night clubs, to a larger arena, literally — the 10,000-capacity Cleveland Arena, home of minor league hockey team, the Cleveland Barons and, later, the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.

Mintz sold the tickets at his Rendezvous Records store, originally printing 7,000 tickets ranging from $1.50 to $1.75. He then left on vacation, leaving the task to his brother-in-law (dubbed "Uncle Miltie" by Freed), who printed out 2,000 more tickets when he'd run through the first batch. And elsewhere in the city, other industrious people were printing their own counterfeit tickets… at a disturbing rate.

The show itself was to feature a prime selection of traveling rhythm and blues bands, including Billy Ward and His Dominoes, Paul Williams and His Hucklebuckers, Tiny Grimes and the Rockin' Highlanders, Danny Cobb and Varetta Dillard. more on this story

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