A Rock 'N' Roll legend and his rockin’ headstone

A Rock 'N' Roll legend and his rockin’ headstone

On the anniversary of the first ever Rock 'N' Roll concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball in Cleveland on March 21 1952, we take a look back at the legacy of the father of Rock 'N' Roll, DJ Alan Freed.

Have you ever wondered where the term 'Rock 'N' Roll' comes from? Well, different people might tell you different things, but if they know what they’re talking about, they’ll probably mention two names – Alan Freed and David C Rockola.

For one of those names, the connection is quite clear. When he first started out, David Rockola found that people constantly got his name wrong. They would often place the emphasis on the first syllable to make it rhyme with holler, whereas it actually (half) rhymes with Coca-Cola. That’s why he incorporated the hyphen, and people learned it soon enough! He quickly became such a dominant figure on the jukebox scene that his name became synonymous with a certain kind of music.

So that is part of how we got the term rock 'n' roll. However, we also have another guy to thank for it – Alan Freed, a man whose story intertwines with ours in some quite interesting ways.

Sometimes referred to as the father of rock 'n' roll, Alan Freed was a hugely popular Disc Jockey based in Cleveland but beloved across America. He was the man first credited with using the term rock 'n' roll to describe the emerging music phenomenon in the early 1950s. He used his platform as a local radio star and concert promoter to introduce R&B to wider audiences, helping to bridge racial divides in a time of widespread segregation in the States. (He had that in common with Elvis.) What’s more, it was Freed who put on the first ever rock 'n' roll concert in Cleveland Ohio in 1952. Alan Freed left a lasting legacy, and it’s one that we’ve been proud to help honor through the efforts of his son, Lance.

Lance Freed walked into our factory a few years ago with a unique request – he wanted to build a special headstone for his father’s grave. Our Past President, Glenn Streeter, was only too happy to help and supplied him with line drawings of a Bubbler jukebox. Lance used these as references to have a full-size jukebox etched in granite, complete with the Rock-Ola name. The result is truly something to see – Alan’s headstone proudly stands 5’ tall on a 1’ base, instantly recognizable even from a distance thanks to its distinctive rounded top. The back features an image of our very own Rock-Ola Bubbler Jukebox, while on the front an image of Alan himself smiles out at onlookers, a cluster of records in his hands.

It’s pretty unusual for a cemetery, and we think David Rockola would have approved. People even leave coins on the base of the headstone! Maybe they’re hoping it will play a track…

Alan Freed is interred at Lake View Cemetery (12316 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106, United States), just 8 miles from the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame, into which Alan Freed was inducted in 1986. So if you’re curious enough to want to see his very special headstone for yourself, you can!