“The birth of rock ‘n’ roll was a long, messy and sometimes painful delivery that has no definite conception. It is as American as apple pie and “pleading the First,” but with Blues as its surrogate father. Most of the early rock ‘n’ roll music was performed by black musicians and was termed R&B (rhythm and blues), the more acceptable name for what had been called ‘race.’ Back in those days in the States, African-Americans and Caucasians didn’t mix too freely, and two distinct markets for music existed: for the black population and for the white.”
This, according to Wayne “Dang” Dooley in an essay called “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which I came across in the book The Mammoth Book of Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘N’ Roll.
Saying that the birth of the phrase, or the genre, “rock and roll” is seeded amid racial issues is an understatement. I agree with Dooley’s assessment. A definitive starting point will likely never surface.
However, one man’s name is always connected. Alan Freed, aka “Moondog,” is commonly credited with coining the phrase “rock and roll.”
Dooley shares his thoughts on Freed’s credit:
“If anyone ever tells you that the term ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ was coined by American DJ Alan Freed, tell them to take a hike…The Boswell Sisters recorded a song called Rock and Roll in 1934 and rocking and rolling had been Afro-American slang for fu***ing since long before Freed first set foot on God’s good pasture.”
In 1934, Freed was 13 years old. According to his official website he landed his first broadcasting gig in 1942, at WKST in New Castle, Pennsylvania. His “Moondog Coronation Ball” in Cleveland, 1952, certainly helped bring together both black and white to begin the bottomless-genre of music we refer to today as “rock and roll.”
In the book The African-American Century, written by Henry Louis Gates and Cornel West, they state clearly the influence of African-Americans on “rock and roll,”
“Who could imagine the American Century [twenty-first century] without the African-American experience at its core? When we listen to that century, there would be no Louis Armstrong. No Duke Ellington. No Billie Holiday or John Coltrane. In fact there would be no jazz. No blues. No rock and roll.”
Rock and Roll’s roots clearly go way back before Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin (insert white, mega-famous artist here). That’s not to say white artists haven’t tremendously impacted it for what it is; it’s just that there’s this whole other part of it that is often left out (appropriate for the typical remembering of American history).
Either way, Alan Freed had a platform that provided the opportunity to combine the phrase “rock and roll” with a culture that was ready for it to expand to something that has no boundaries.
According to the description of Freed on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s website (of which Freed is a member),
“Amid the atmosphere of a witch hunt [a payola scandal in the late 1950s], Freed steadfastly maintained that he never played a record he didn’t like. Nonetheless, he was blackballed within the business and died a broken man in 1965.”
Sounds like rock and roll to me.