Known as the “father of rock ‘n’ roll,” Cleveland’s own Alan Freed was the disc jockey credited with first using the term to describe the emerging music of the early 1950s. As a local radio star and concert promoter, he helped introduce R&B music to the masses during a time of segregation, but the payola scandals of the late 50s would end his musical career, heading Freed into a spiral of alcoholism. He died from cirrhosis of the liver at the young age of 43.
Freed’s influence expanded beyond his Cleveland roots, bringing him at the height of his career to the New York powerhouse station WINS. He featured the music of Bill Haley and the Comets, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, catapulting his show to a national audience through syndication. He ended up at the wrong end of the notorious pay-for-play scandal known as “payola” (promoters accepting bribes to play particular records), a charge he denied, but he couldn’t outrun his damaged reputation.
Freed was cremated and initially interred in a Westchester County, New York, mausoleum. His remains were then moved to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where they stayed for 12 years, and then to his final resting place here at Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery. His new contemporary gravestone tells his story, illustrated with a big ol’ jukebox on the back—a design suggested by musician and Freed fan Steven Van Zandt.
Alan Freed’s ashes were re-interred on May 7, 2016, and Van Zandt spoke at the ceremony. As a local boy with wide-spread influence, he is buried near other Cleveland natives: G-Man Eliot Ness and cartoonist Harvey Pekar, and just a short walk from the Haserot Angel.
Know Before You Go
Follow the white line in the cemetery road to the Wade Chapel. Take the road to the right to the next intersection and look for the jukebox. The above GPS coordinates will take you virtually to the spot.