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January 14: Hail, Hail Rock and Roll

Lawrence Bush
January 14, 2010

Alan Freed 1534-The-Disc-Jockeys-3Alan Freed’s first landmark “Rock and Roll Ball” was staged in Harlem on this date in 1955, featuring Big Joe Turner, Fats Domino, the Moonglows, and the Drifters. Within a month, music industry trade papers were advertising “rock & roll” for the first time. Freed, the son of a Lithuanian Jewish father and a Welsh Baptist mother, was a pioneering radio disc jockey and impresario who promoted Black American music to white audiences in segregated America. His career was destroyed in the radio payola scandal of the early 1960s. Nevertheless, he was among the original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland (his home town). Also on this date, in 1967, the first “Be-In” took place in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, featuring the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’” —John Lennon

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.