Remix Cleveland: The Cleveland Music Sector and Its Economic Impact – Full Report (CSU 2011)

The full report is here

The executive summary is here

Remix Cleveland: The Cleveland Music Sector and Its Economic Impact – Full Report

Iryna LendelCleveland State University
Sharon BlissCleveland State University
Candice ClouseCleveland State University
Merissa PiazzaCleveland State University
Ziona AustrianCleveland State University
Kathryn W. HexterCleveland State University
Renee Constantino
Matthew Hrubey


This study was commissioned by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC)as a starting point for gaining a deeper understanding of the different sectors of the Cleveland arts scene in Cuyahoga county. Its objective is to understand the Cleveland Music Sector, delineate its components, learn its dynamics, and assess the economic impact of music events and venues in Cuyahoga county.

Suggested Citation

Iryna Lendel, Sharon Bliss, Candice Clouse, Merissa Piazza, Ziona Austrian, Kathryn W. Hexter, Renee Constantino, and Matthew Hrubey. “Remix Cleveland: The Cleveland Music Sector and Its Economic Impact – Full Report” Urban Publications (2011).
Available at:

The Birthplace of Rock and Roll: Cleveland in the Sixties by Niiki Gerdes


The Birthplace of Rock and Roll: Cleveland in the Sixties
by Niiki Gerdes

The “Mistake on the Lake”; “The Armpit of America.” Phrases such as these were used to describe the city of Cleveland in the mid-20th century. These phrases hide the major accomplishments that were made when political and social turmoil encompassed the nation in the tumultuous era known as the “Sixties”.  A major social and cultural component of this era was the music, the famous genre known as “rock and roll.”  Cleveland in the sixties became the birthplace of that music.  While Cleveland is not typically considered a center for the music industry, or even a forerunner in the development of rock and roll, it actually did have a profound effect on advancing the music culture of the era.  With the Agora at the forefront, and with the aid of several smaller, lesser-known events and places, successful deejays, and other personalities, Cleveland helped transform rock and roll in the greater nationwide context.

One of music’s greatest pioneers across the nation and one of Cleveland’s most notable figures was Alan Freed, the most popular disc jockey in the 1950s.  Though he led a controversial life by drinking and frequent “run-ins” with the law, he was influential in promoting new music of the time, particularly “blues” and jazz music, and held a key role in promoting the newly-developed genre of “rock and roll” into mainstream culture.   He was the disc jockey for the local station WJW-AM, and beginning in 1951, he became one of the first white men to play what was previously known as “black” music, a new sound with a different beat, also referred to as “R & B”.  From there, Freed hosted “The Moondog Show” every Monday night to play such music.  This program was largely a success, leading to an increase in radio listeners and R&B record sales, thus making it apparent that this style of music needed its own distinguishing identity.1 To create this identity, Freed allegedly coined the term “rock and roll” to denote this distinct genre of music and began using it frequently on the air, although the term itself was not a new phrase.  However, many were unsure of using that term for the music because for those not listening to Freed in Cleveland in 1951, it was nearly impossible to identify the specific music, artists, or songs that he was referring to when he applied the term.2 Nevertheless, the term stuck, and in the next two decades was forever engrained in the minds of the people in America and abroad.  The fact that the term emerged from Cleveland shows the importance of the city as a forerunner in the development of the music that became a symbol for the era.  Although Freed’s career in Cleveland was brief, his legacy of introducing and naming rock and roll became legendary.  As noted by the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, “Freed left behind a city of rock n’ roll fans.  Their acceptance and enthusiasm for new bands, musical trends, and recordings made Cleveland a hot music market.”3

One of Freed’s most notable achievements was the first major event that spawned Cleveland’s rock and roll legacy, the first “rock” concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball.  The large amount of R&B fans it drew to the Cleveland Arena made it clear to the record industry that this new genre might indeed be a viable, profitable form of music.4 Thus, Freed’s concert paved the road for both his personal as well as rock and roll’s success.  It can be argued that “when his Moondog Show debuted on July 11, 1951, and was an immediate hit, Freed paved the way for contemporaries (although others who tried emulating him fell short).”5 The actual “ball” turned out to be a disaster.  The concert was oversold, with thousands of fans piling in to see acts such as the Dominoes, Paul Williams & the Hucklebuckers, Tiny Grimes & the Rocking Highlanders, Danny Cobb, and Varetta Dillard.6 The following day, a newspaper described the scene:

A crowd of about 6,000 persons, dissatisfied because they could not buy tickets to the Moondog Coronation Ball at the Arena, pushed down doors and entered, adding their own number to the 10,000 already inside last night, creating such a confined mass of humanity that police had to call off the event.7

Nevertheless, the short-lived concert marked both a turning point for the city of Cleveland and for rock and roll itself: it put the new genre at the forefront of the nation’s attention.  The mere fact that so many people desired to attend an event showed that the music industry gained momentum in mainstream culture.  Another interesting note is that many of the fans that desired to attend the Ball were African-American, showing how race was an important part of the music that became popular.  In other words, the music was at first predominantly considered “black”, but it later emerged to encompass society as a whole.  It makes it even more remarkable that this occurred in Cleveland.

Rock and Roll in America and especially in Cleveland could not have succeeded without the aid of radio stations, which frequently played and promoted the new music.  In fact, in the early fifties and beyond, Cleveland was considered one of the hottest radio markets in the country and an important testing ground for new records and recording artists.8 Radio stations were mediums where the public could first hear the emerging genre, even if they never attended a concert or event. WMMS-FM was the most popular radio station in the sixties and seventies, presenting concerts and music from the Agora and other music venues.  It was not the only station, however, as many others contributed to the success of rock in Cleveland, nor was Alan Freed the only popular disc jockey.  In fact, Freed left Cleveland for New York in 1954, leaving only his legacy behind.  Billy Bass was another memorable figure, having a nightly show on WIXY-AM and serving on WCNR-FM and WMMS-FM.9 With the focus on many radio personalities, and the reality that radio stations were the first to promote music on a broader scale, they were integral to Cleveland’s musical success.

However, while radio stations were important, particularly to Cleveland, what was instrumental even more so were many popular venues that pushed Cleveland and rock and roll into the national spotlight.  According to Billy Bass himself, “Back in 1971-2, Cleveland was considered the ‘Armpit of the World’.  There was nothing happening that made us look good…there was nothing we could be proud of except the radio.  But whatever it was, the audience felt they were important to the development of rock.”10 This shows the extent that people believed that Cleveland was a forerunner in mainstream music culture.  With such positivism about Cleveland, particularly the radio, it is no wonder the city became famous for its music.

While many associate Freed and the radio industry as the sole contributor to Cleveland’s rock and roll legacy, there were other influences, particularly music concert halls.  Perhaps the largest and most successful venue in Cleveland beginning in the late 1960s was the Agora Ballroom, a prominent and largely successful concert hall.  This was an important place where people would go to hear and enjoy live music and experience the rock and roll culture, as well as promote the city’s social scene.  A place where people can mingle and enjoy popular culture at the same time promotes success of the venue itself.  The Agora soon set up a place where rock could be discovered and promoted, making it possible for national recognition.

Several performers would go on to get their national “big break” from the Agora, the first step to fame, while others simply performed here as part of a national or international tour.  By the late 1970s, the Agora had obtained the status and reputation for breaking new acts out of Cleveland.  Ads as late as 1979 boasted that the “hottest rock acts in the world” had been booked by the Agora for WMMS performances.11 In addition to hosting popular concerts, the Agora was also a place for music recordings, radio and television shows, and even an underground music club in which unique bands played.  The press often proclaimed, “For the finest live rock ‘n’ roll entertainment, the Cleveland Agora is your place to party every night of the week…Whether it’s upstairs in the Agora or downstairs in the Mistake, we have it all.”12 Thus, the Agora accomplished much more than pure entertainment, by pushing the Cleveland music industry into the national spotlight, making it the most popular rock town between New York and Chicago, other nationally-recognized rock cities.13

The Agora was founded in 1966 by Henry LoConti as a college club near the Case Western Reserve University campus. After the first year, LoConti moved the club to its current location, 1730 E. 24th St. Downtown.  This is where it all began.  The club, though small, would soon become a great success, providing a vast array of entertainment and paving the path for national fame for both the city and the genre of rock and roll for decades to come.  It was not a “typical” concert arena, however, in terms of size or set-up.  Rock Scene Magazine provides a description of a welcoming and comfortable club: “Downstairs is a great juke-box called the Mistake, while upstairs resides a large hall, nearly the size of a supermarket, stage in the front center, dance floor in front of that, tables off to the side.”14 Throughout the late 60s and 70s, this quaint club was host to many top performers, including but not limited to Bad Company, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Eric Carmen, Hall & Oates, the James Gang, Meat Loaf, the Raspberries, Southside Johnny and the Ashbury Dukes, and Todd Rundgren.  It is no wonder, therefore, why the Agora was considered one of the top venues in the country in the 1970s.  The excitement didn’t remain solely in Cleveland, however, as LoConti later opened up additional venues across Ohio and America, in Toledo, Columbus, and even Atlanta.15

Due to the vast array of concerts held and an increasing reputation, many groups received their first major or national break at the Agora.  In a 1975 press release, LoConti boasted that “Cleveland is the #1 progressive market in the nation on a broadcasting level and in the area of developing and breaking national acts.”16 How right he was. The Hello People, a group known for their “mime” apparel, were one such group, and broke their album Those Handsome Devils nationally after a performance at the Agora, including songs such as “Finger Poppin’ Time”.  Hall & Oates performed a turnaround concert in 1975, where they went from a struggling band to a national success, gaining audience appreciation and discovery.  An original style of music, Atlantis Philharmonic became known as one of Cleveland’s best-known classical-style rock bands.  Other bands were Cleveland’s own: the James Gang, the Raspberries, and the Michael Stanley Band.  A newspaper headline, quoting a popular maxim rang “Local Boys Do Good”17 for the latter of the three.  Another example is that of the band Sweetleaf, which was one of the first to do “Mr. Skin” from their Spirit Album, performed so much that the radio station got numerous requests for the album, breaking it out right here in Cleveland.18 Other groups simply enjoyed success for recording or performing here in Cleveland, such as Pure Prairie League, who claimed that over 30% of national ticket sales were in Northern Ohio.19  With such outstanding results in Ohio, it simply goes to show the extent of the Cleveland music scene, especially in conjunction with the Agora.  It also shows the positive reputation the city held.  In fact, music was so popular in Cleveland that artists looked to the city to get themselves known.  Says Johnny Lyons of Southside Johnny: “Cleveland’s the happening town for bands like ours.  If we don’t go over big here, we probably won’t make it nationally.”20

The Agora also broke out local groups by holding special events for them.  This is how the Raspberries got their break, by performing as the house band on what were called “Golden Sundays” beginning in 1970.  These Sundays were so-called “golden” because they produced numbers of concert-goers double that of any other day of the week and thus contributed to successful Agora shows.  This goes to show the dramatic influence of local groups performing regularly at the Agora, especially since the national popularity of the Agora itself was gaining.  The Sunday night specials were just one example, and, according to LoConti, they succeeded in what they were created to do: showcase new albums and talents. He claimed,

I feel that these Sunday night showcases will be instrumental in developing new talent in this area.  Cleveland will have the opportunity to see 52 new groups a year…and out of these, how many become super stars? It is an exciting prospect for the listening community of Cleveland and a good tool for groups to get initial exposure in this market.21

With such a positive outlook for the future, it is no wonder such groups like the Raspberries achieved such great fame so quickly.

The Agora did not break out new groups by performances and concerts alone.  The staff, the audience, as well as all other behind-the-scenes work involved gave groups something to look forward to, and boosted their success by the mid-1970s.  For instance, Jimmy Mauk, Agora publicist, remarks about a new band, 15-60-75, and states in a 1975 press release,

The exceptional talent of 15-60-75, the national reputation of Cleveland as an act-breaking market, the integral role the Agora and Agora president Henry LoConti play in the Cleveland Music Market, the ever-growing reputation of Agency Recording Studios, engineer John Nebe (who will engineer the live 16-track recording session), and Chief Engineer Arnie Rosenberg, and the unprecedented grass-roots support of the people for the band, the club, and the studio, make this night in Cleveland a historic event.22

Thus, the Agora Complex was a group effort by many and proves that the rock and roll industry was the result of many different areas, encompassing many different people, a sure sign of success.  In this way, the most popular concert hall in Cleveland became the social center for the city.

One of the most memorable events in Agora history was Bruce Springsteen’s famous free concert held on August 9, 1978.  From this, it is apparent that the Agora was successful in the fact that performers prided themselves at performing in Cleveland.  This concert was unique, however, in that it became one of the first stepping stones to Agora recognition as a recording facility, something that was previously unknown.  The typical opinion about the Agora was that it was a national showcase for talent and not a recording facility like the Bottom Line in New York or The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles were.23 The Springsteen concert changed that mindset.  The sound quality was phenomenal:

Tapes made from the broadcast were so good that CBS immediately feared the very possibility of bootleg albums and tapes…the Agora sounded like a sound booth of a recording studio because-for all intents and purposes-it was.  And although the Agora runs professional concerts for radio broadcasts all the time, nobody had ever seen the unbelievable amount of care taken with anything like that before…24

This broadened the Agora’s horizons, making it possible for greater national recognition.  In addition, the concert was broadcast live on eight FM stations, reaching a potential three million listeners, making the concert a true national event.25 This was not the only successful performance of that year, as Todd Rundgren and Southside Johnny also performed record-breaking concerts and put the Agora on the national stage.   These concerts reflected more than just big-name success.  Buddy Mayer, Agora productions director, wrote that “the excitement created by Bruce and Todd here was unparalleled in the Agora’s twelve year history.”26

Performers also showed their respect for the city that had given them so much, thus making Cleveland the central focus of fame.  Springsteen once said, “I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for Cleveland.  This city supported me from the first.”27 Patti Smith, although she did not break out in Cleveland, still felt similar emotions after performing in 1976: “I felt like I was home…We were dying for Cleveland.  We could feel Cleveland even when we were away from it.”28 She told roaring crowds, “This is it. This is the best rock ‘n’ roll city in America.”29 With such positive responses to the Agora and to the city of Cleveland, the artists would carry with them throughout the nation a good word, helping the Agora to achieve national fame.  However, not all performers agreed.  According to Eric Carmen, lead singer for the Raspberries, “Cleveland audiences are the worst”30 in response to a 1974 concert.  Nevertheless, audience and performers’ reactions were largely upbeat.  Writes a recent visitor to the Agora club manager, “The Agora is a beautiful club.  I had a great time the three or four times I was privileged to attend.  Wish they had such places here in New York City!”31

From national breakouts and successful performances, the Agora was largely successful due to the management of LoConti and his staff.  The Agora did not become successful by a stellar management team or excellent nationally-known concerts alone, however.  The addition of radio and TV programs helped the Agora gain popularity in Cleveland and throughout the U.S. because it could showcase talent to a broader audience.  The biggest contribution was the integration of the Agora with the radio station WMMS-FM, which provided live broadcasts of concerts entitled “Nights Out at the Agora” beginning in 1970.  In addition, the Agora Radio Network reached out to over 7 million people in three states and included WMMS, WIOT, WMDI, WCOL, ACRN cable, and WEBN.32 Another radio show was the “New World of Jazz” beginning in 1975.  Says promotions director Joyce Halasa in 1976, the tenth anniversary of the Agora’s founding, “Many exciting things are happening here…Each Monday night WMMS and The Agora brings to Cleveland the best of the new country, rock, blues, and folk national recording acts.  Each Tuesday night, WMMS and the Agora presents ‘The New World of Jazz’, featuring a spectrum of traditional and new fusion music.”33 Thus, the Agora had expanded its horizons, making it possible for national recognition and continued popularity in Cleveland, bringing rock and roll to the forefront of mainstream culture.

While the Agora probably contributed to much of rock and roll’s success in integrating it from Cleveland to the national mainstream, it was not the only venue where groups made their mark or where important performances were held.  These venues not only helped to promote rock and roll, but music and culture in general.  Musicarnival was one such venue, under the management of John L. Price, and in a tent-style theater provided music concerts, operas, and plays from 1954-75.  Obviously, with such a vast array of programs, it opened up Cleveland to many new horizons beyond the scope of rock and roll, especially more music.  With new opportunities comes broader audiences, and thus it can be argued that Cleveland encompassed music on a broad scale.  A 1967 ad for Musicarnival claims “A wonderful show full of music and fun for you whole family.”34 Musicarnival boasted rock groups such as Wayne Newton, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Simon & Garfunkel, Tom Jones, Led Zeppelin, Procol Harum, the Who, Blood Sweat & Tears, and put on nationally-recognized plays such as Grease, This Was Burlesque, Porgy and Bess, West Side Story, Cinderella, and The Ballad of Baby Doe.  Even unique performances such as nightclub acts and other entertainment were done.35 Unfortunately, however, the success of Musicarnival was short-lived, and due to competition from other venues such as Front Row Theater and Blossom, Musicarnival closed in 1975, at a time when rock and roll was at its peak.

The Musicarnival and the Agora were certainly important, but the sixties era also brought out numerous other venues and performances in Cleveland, including the Arena, Front Row Theater, Blossom (1968), and even the Cleveland Municipal Stadium.  The mid-seventies brought out the “World Series of Rock” series, with performing groups such as Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, and ZZ Top.  This continued beyond the sixties into the late 1970s and 1980s in Cleveland, as an 1979 ad advertises for Rod Stewart, Uriah Heep, Aerosmith, and Blue Oyster Cult.36 Thus, rock and roll was popular long after the sixties were over, and in several areas in the mid-20th century in Cleveland.  Long-term success proves that the venues created in the sixties were vital to the music industry and the potency of Cleveland itself.  If all venues on the other hand were to have gone out of business or lost influence after the sixties, Cleveland’s impact would not have been as great.  Recognition for such a long period proves that rock and roll held an integral part of Cleveland’s culture.

On the local scene, yet smaller dance and music clubs were abound, and even teen dance clubs became popular throughout Northeast Ohio.  Hullabaloos, teenage dance clubs, became a popular form of entertainment for youths in the 50s and 60s.  The adult clubs, including the Cleveland Music Hall, boasted large success.  Each claimed that during the 1960s and 1970s all of the major rock shows were held 37 Of course, nearly all venues claim such success, but not without some truth to the matter.  In addition to promoting music, such clubs and even the aforementioned venues were instrumental in promoting the culture of the era as well.  Music is certainly part of any culture, but when combined with the culture itself, it is easy to infiltrate mainstream life and promote trends, which in turn make recognition beyond the regional possible.  Disco was one such trend.  A “Smiling Dog Saloon” ad from the mid-70s advertises:  “The scene is Disco and the dance is the Hustle and together they have transformed New York Nightlife over the past six months and have started working on the Cleveland scene this summer.  In the last three months, at least seven clubs have changed to disco format in Cleveland.”38 Thus, even smaller venues played a role in Cleveland’s musical success and brought it unto mainstream culture.

All of the venues, performances, and people helped to create a lasting legacy for the city Cleveland.  In fact, in 1995 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum was added to Cleveland, as if to honor the birthplace of the music it represents and was so instrumental in producing on the national stage.  The Rock Hall, therefore, is a perfect fit for the Ohio city on the shores of Lake Erie.  Dennis Bulone, a talent agency director, believed that “a lot of people say that this isn’t where it’s happening for music.  But here is where it can start.  If Cleveland had its own recording label here, this city could be another Nashville.”39 Not only did many groups make it big here, but many also believed in and supported Cleveland for reaching stardom.  Writes a newspaper columnist, “The Hello People are coming to the Agora…and they should agree that the best things in life are here.  Cleveland not only can take full credit for breaking them as a major act, but the city also leads the country in sales of their ABC LP…”40 Even LoConti remarked of Cleveland’s success in other groups too:  “Ralph’s performance at the Agora is proof that Cleveland people don’t have to be anywhere else but our own city before they can relate to what’s going on musically throughout the nation.  Fact of the matter is, Cleveland has a great deal of influence on the national music scene.”41

Groups getting their mark in Cleveland are also evident of the national scene in other ways, too: “…Circus might be a good place from which to view the entire Cleveland scene, as their history, trials and tribulations, is a good example of the evolutions an area band has to go through in the process of making their national fortune.”42 Thus, Cleveland was an example for aspiring new artists.  Cleveland was, in most respects, appreciated by performers.  Says Michael Stanley, “You have to realize that every rock band started out as a local band somewhere…Personally, I’m glad for us it’s here in Cleveland.  And if given a choice of only one place to be big, I’d want it to be in my hometown.”43 Others, like Eric Carmen, may disagree, but the obvious point is that Cleveland was a major influence for the music industry.  Many producers will argue for its success, however.  Dennis Bulone of Action Talent Inc. in 1975 provided a list of reasons why Cleveland was a good location for music: two agencies that book talent (Action Talent and Energy Talent); a place to buy musical equipment, Belkin productions, one of the largest in the country, receives the big talent early; good radio stations; printed media; groups that have broken out here (Outsiders, the James Gang, the Raspberries) that “encourage bands”; band members that are willing to help others; and good producers.44 Another major aspect should come as no surprise: “Cleveland gets on new material fast.”  Says Jimmy Testa, a producer/songwriter, “Rock music is bigger in Cleveland than anywhere in the country, or for that matter, the world…Clevelanders set the pace.  We are ahead of our times and so are our rock groups, if they are to be original…”45

Many institutions, people, and events helped to shape Cleveland into the rock and roll capital as it is known today.  With Alan Freed, the Agora, and several other venues, rock and roll was born and raised in a city and spread its influence throughout the nation.  A “Mistake on the Lake”? Not unless you consider rock and roll a mistake.  The fact of the matter is that Cleveland was instrumental to the creation and promotion of rock and roll across the nation, making it as popular as it is today.  In the words of the little-known band “The Presidents of the United States of America”, “Cleveland Rocks!”


1. Adams, Deanna R.  Rock N Roll and the Cleveland Connection, Kent State University Press, Ohio, 2002; p.5
2. Belz, Carl I. “Popular Music and the Folk Tradition”, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 80, No. 316 (Apr.-Jun., 1967); p.131
3. “Cleveland History: Rock ‘N’ Roll”, Retrieved 09/23/05
4.  Nolan, A. M.  Rock ‘N’ Roll Road Trip: The Ultimate Guide to the Sites, the Shrines, and the Legends Across America, Pharos Books, New York, NY, 1992; p. 156
5. Adams, Deanna R.  Rock N Roll and the Cleveland Connection, Kent State University Press, Ohio, 2002; p.6
6. Adams, Deanna R.  Rock N Roll and the Cleveland Connection, Kent State University Press, Ohio, 2002; p.6
7. “Moondog Ball is Halted as 6,000 Crash Arena Gate”, The Plain Dealer, Sat., Mar. 22, 1952; p.1
8. Adams, Deanna R.  Rock N Roll and the Cleveland Connection, Kent State University Press, Ohio, 2002; p.2
9. “Billy Bass and Joyce Sell-Out!!!: The Scene Interviews Former WMMS Personalities”, The Scene, Mar. 22-28, 1973; p.5
10. Adams, Deanna R.  Rock N Roll and the Cleveland Connection, Kent State University Press, Ohio, 2002; p.323
11. The Cleveland Press, Thurs., Feb. 15, 1979; p.D20
12. “Agora dance copy for WLYT: Spots to run December 3 through December 7”; Agora Records, Box 1: “Press Releases”, WRHS
13. “The Week That Was: Harley, Baker, Sayer”, The Plain Dealer, 03/28/1975
14. Kanze, Peter. “Circus In Cleveland”, Rock Scene Magazine, Sept.-Oct. 1974
15. Adams, Deanna R.  Rock N Roll and the Cleveland Connection, Kent State University Press, Ohio, 2002; p.156
16. “The Agora Sunday Nite Rock Preview”; Agora Records, Box 1: “1975 Press Releases”, WRHS
17. Misichko, Kathy. “Michael Stanley Band-‘Local Boys Do Good’”, Chronicle-Telegram Elyria; p.C-12
18. “Rock Reverberations”, The Plain Dealer, Fri., Jan. 10, 1975; p.24
19. “Pure Prairie League: On the Two-Lane Highway”, Exit, 03/24/1975; p.7
20. Bornino, Bruno. “Southside Johnny Is On the Spot At Agora Monday”, The Cleveland Press, Fri., Sept. 10, 1976; p.23
21. “For more info contact Jimmy Mauk”; Agora Records, Box 1: Folder “Press Releases, 1975”, WRHS
22. Mauk, Jimmy., Jan. 14, 1975; Agora Records, Box 1: Folder “Misc Press Releases”, WRHS
23. Girard, Jim. “Thank You ‘Boss’”, Scene, Aug. 17-23
24. Girard, Jim. “Thank You ‘Boss’”, Scene, Aug. 17-23
25. Girard, Jim. “Thank You ‘Boss’”, Scene, Aug. 17-23
26. Maver, Buddy. Letter, Oct. 9, 1978; Agora Records, Box 1: Folder “Misc Press Releases”, WRHS
27. Scott, Jane. “Springsteen Puts On a Knockout at the Agora”, Music Review: Scene, July 20-26
28. Scott, Jane. “Patti Smith: ‘I could feel Cleveland before I even got here’”, The Plain Dealer, Fri. Jan. 30, 1976; Agora Records, Box 4
29. Scott, Jane. “Patti Smith: ‘I could feel Cleveland before I even got here’”, The Plain Dealer, Fri. Jan. 30, 1976; Agora Records, Box 4
30. Pantsios, Anastasia.  “Raspberries Return Home”, Exit, Aug. 7, 1974; p.14
31. Kanze, Peter. Letter to club manager, 7 Aug. 1974; Agora Records, Box 4: Newspaper articles, WRHS
32.“For immediate release: Re: Agora Radio Network”; Agora Records, Box 1: Folder “Press Releases, 1975”, WRHS
33. Halasa, Joyce. Letter to editors, Sept. 21, 1976; Agora Records, Box 1: Folder “College Records”, WRHS
34. Musicarnival ad, The Plain Dealer, Jul. 7, 1967
35. Wilson, Earl.  “Action Tab”, The Plain Dealer, Aug. 30, 1974; Agora Records, Box 4: Newspaper articles, WRHS
36. “Belkin Productions and WMMS” ad, Exit, Aug. 13, 1975, Vol. II, Issue 18; p.8
37. Nolan, A. M.  Rock ‘N’ Roll Road Trip: The Ultimate Guide to the Sites, the Shrines, and the Legends Across America, Pharos Books, New York, NY, 1992; p. 157
38. Weitzer, Richard, and Drayton, Paul.  “Are You Ready For Disco Madness?”, Exit, Aug. 13, 1975, Vol. II, Issue 18; p.15
39. “Rock Reverberations”, The Plain Dealer, Fri., Jan. 10, 1975; p.24
40. “Rock Reverberations”, The Plain Dealer, Fri., Jan. 10, 1975; p.24
41. Bornino, Bruno.  “Ralph Is Top 10 At Agora”, The Cleveland Press, Fri., Feb. 8, 1974; Agora Records, Box 4: Newspaper articles, WRHS
42. Kanze, Peter. “Circus In Cleveland”, Rock Scene Magazine, Sept.-Oct. 1974
43. Adams, Deanna R.  Rock N Roll and the Cleveland Connection, Kent State University Press, Ohio, 2002; p.xiii
44. Bornino, Bruno.  “Ralph Is Top 10 At Agora”, The Cleveland Press, Fri., Feb. 8, 1974; Agora Records, Box 4: Newspaper articles, WRHS
45. “Rock Reverberations”, The Plain Dealer, Fri., Mar. 28, 1975; p.29

Moondog Coronation Ball

Excerpt from blog post by Mike Raymond 2/2/10

Through both live concerts and behind the microphone at WJW Radio in Cleveland, deejay Alan Freed did more to spread the gospel of rock and roll during its infancy than any other non-performer.

By adopting a persona “the Moondog”,  playing rhythm & blues records, and popularizing the term rock and roll and the music that it defined, Freed became a crucial player in the push to move African-American music into the mainstream.  Taking it a step further, Freed and local promoters put on what is widely accepted as the first rock concert— the Moondog Coronation Ball at the old Cleveland Arena on Euclid Avenue.

The inaugural event attracted more than 20,000 people back in March of 1952, double the capacity of the arena.  Fans began rioting, knocking down ticket takers and ushers.  Eventually the concert was shut down by the police and fire departments.. 

The riot became national news, and Freed’s popularity escalated.  Freed eventually moved to New York and began booking concerts at the Brooklyn Theater breaking new ground in featuring both black and white artists.

“How the world’s first rock concert ended in chaos” BBC News Story on Moondog Coronation Ball Concert

“How the world’s first rock concert ended in chaos” BBC News Story on Moondog Coronation Ball Concert

Moondog Concert was 3/21/1952

The BBC story ran 3/21/2012

The link is here


How the world’s first rock concert ended in chaos

    • 21 March 2012

Sixty years ago the world’s first rock concert was staged in Cleveland by two men whose passion for music bridged the racial divide in a segregated US.

Jimmy Sutphin was playing poker and drinking beer in a hotel room with some hockey team pals when they heard the commotion outside.

Peering out of the fifth-floor window, they saw thousands of people besieging the indoor arena across the road.

The 20-year-old student and his friends abandoned their card game and piled downstairs to investigate.

It was Friday evening, 21 March 1952, in Cleveland, Ohio, and they were about to witness history being made.

The crowd was angrily demanding entry to a performance featuring a radical new music movement that was about to sweep the nation.


The world’s first ever rock concert – the Moondog Coronation Ball – was about to end in turmoil after it had barely begun.

Alan Freed appears on stage the night of the Moondog Coronation Ball in Cleveland on 21 March 1952
Image captionAudience members were apparently surprised to discover Alan Freed was white

The years seem to peel away from Mr Sutphin, now a 79-year-old grandfather, as he stands outside the former site of the Cleveland Arena, remembering.

“The crowd were screaming, ‘let us in’, and banging on the doors,” he recalls. “It was chaos.

“Turns out the place was sold out and they had closed the doors on them. And these people had tickets and were not happy.

“The doors had a glass centre panel and they ended up breaking them so they could get into the building.”

When police captain Bill Zimmerman arrived with dozens of officers, he was confronted by pandemonium.

Gatecrashers had stormed the 9,950-seat venue and it was dangerously overcrowded.

‘Race records’

The musicians, who are thought to have only performed several songs, were ordered to stop playing as police waded into the mob. A man was stabbed in the melee.

The next morning, Mr Sutphin remembers entering the Cleveland Arena, which his father built, to find it strewn with whisky bottles.

John Soeder, music critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper – which carried a front-page story on the tumultuous event the next day – says the Moondog Coronation Ball was the “Big Bang of rock’n’roll”.

But it might not have been possible without two visionaries who raided the airwaves with this pulsating, insurrectionary new sound, and in doing so brought black and white kids together to dance in post-war America.

One of them was the concert’s MC, Alan Freed. The other was Leo Mintz, owner of a music store on the fringes of Cleveland’s black community.

Mintz had noticed an increasing number of white teenagers sifting through his extensive collection of rhythm and blues tracks by African-American artists.

But the singles were often a turn-off for such buyers because the industry marketed them as “race records”.

And it wasn’t just west-side white folk who viewed these juke-joint tunes as undesirable.

Terry Stewart, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland (which has a permanent exhibit dedicated to Alan Freed), says: “These songs were filled with double entendres, lyrics like, ‘she just loved my 10-inch record of the blues’.

“Many of the churchgoing black families were just as upset as the white families with this music being played for their children.”

However, when Mintz listened to this raucous sound – with its thumping back beat, locomotive rhythm, and infectious 12-bar blues melodies – he heard the future.

Old blues euphemism

Mintz convinced Freed – a friend and onetime radio broadcaster from orchestral dances in Akron, Ohio – that the obscure tracks deserved some airtime.

His son, Stuart Mintz, says his father told Freed the “kids are rocking and rolling in the aisles to these records, but they won’t buy them”.

Mintz helped Freed, then a humble sportscaster, secure a new show on the city’s WJW radio in 1951, devoted to playing this underground music.

Freed would coin the term rock’n’roll – an old blues euphemism for sex – to describe the tracks.

Using the on-air alias King of the Moondoggers, he would ring a cowbell, drink beer and howl in tribute as he played the records, while pounding out the beat with his fist on a phone book.

The flamboyant Freed’s late-night show caused a sensation with black and white listeners alike.

Mintz and Freed’s logical next step was to stage a live concert featuring the edgy new acts.

Headlining the Moondog Coronation Ball that night 60 years ago was Paul Williams and his Hucklebuckers, supported by Tiny Grimes and his Rockin’ Highlanders, the Dominoes, Varetta Dillard and Danny Cobb. Tickets were $1.50.

One of the few photos from the event shows the men in flannel suits, saddle shoes and fedora hats, while the immaculately coiffed women wear dresses with pinched-in waists and high heels.

It is all a far cry from the ripped jeans, merchandise T-shirts and untamed hairstyles sported by rock fans of later years.

Disastrous printing error

Mr Stewart says that when Freed appeared on stage that night there was uproar.

The predominantly black audience apparently could not believe the exuberant radio personality whose show they had been tuning in to for nine months was white.

The delighted crowd “went nuts”, says Mr Stewart.

He adds: “The fact that this many people would show up for an all-black rhythm and blues event, based solely on advertising on a late-night radio show, and tear the doors off an arena to get inside, made promoters and record labels say, ‘wait a minute, something’s happening here.'”

Less well known is the reason why the Moondog Coronation Ball ended in disaster: a minor printing error.

The mistake was caused by someone forgetting to add the date to tickets issued for a follow-up ball, which Mintz had set about organising immediately after the initial one sold out.

As a result, an estimated 20,000 people showed up on the same night for the first concert – at a venue which could hold half that number.

Rock devil knocking

Mintz was on holiday that Friday in Florida when he was informed by an afternoon phone call of the ticket foul-up.

Popular young American vocal group Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers in 1956
Image captionAlan Freed’s TV show was cancelled after Frankie Lymon (centre) danced with a white girl on stage

Stuart Mintz says: “My dad was told, ‘there’s an emergency, you’d better come home right now’, and he took a plane.

“By the time he arrived [at the Cleveland Arena] there was already a full-blown riot.

“The fire department opened up hoses on the crowd. He just tapped the cab driver on the shoulder and said, ‘find me a bar.'”

The concert that was billed on a promotional poster as “the most terrible ball of them all” had certainly lived up to the pre-show hype.

Freed narrowly escaped criminal charges, although the event’s notoriety helped propel him to stardom.

Younger generations raised on rap videos might well be perplexed at the idea that rock’n’roll could have once made the authorities squirm with unease.

But this was a dozen years before the Civil Rights Act. J Edgar Hoover’s FBI would place Freed under surveillance because the records he played were deemed such a threat.

As broadcast historian Mike Olszewski says: “Back then, it seemed, the United States was always looking for new enemies.

“It was the beginning of the Red Scare. In 1948, you had Roswell and the UFO scare.

“People were always looking for a devil and rock’n’roll was a devil that came right into their homes.”

A new era

Freed’s downfall would be just as sudden as his meteoric rise to fame.

Fans watch Pulp at the Glastonbury Festival in England on 25 June 2011
Image captionThe Moondog Coronation Ball laid the foundations for every rock gig, from Woodstock to Glastonbury

In 1957, the trailblazing DJ’s nationally televised rock’n’roll show on the ABC network was cancelled after a black performer danced with a white girl on stage, outraging Southern affiliates.

Freed’s career was finished by the payola scandal, a then-widespread practice of disc jockeys accepting gifts from promoters to play their records.

Convicted of commercial bribery in 1962, he died of complications from alcoholism three years later, aged 43.

Though Freed had been silenced, the rock’n’roll genie was well and truly out of the bottle. The Moondog Coronation Ball laid the foundations for every rock gig that followed, from Woodstock to Glastonbury.

The Cleveland Arena was demolished in 1977 and an American Red Cross office block stands today at the spot where a new era of live entertainment was born.

Recalling how he came to be a bystander to the dawning of a new era on Euclid Avenue six decades ago, Mr Sutphin says: “Who would have thought it would be such a memorable event?”


Alan Freed

From the Ohio Historical Society

Alan Freed was a radio personality and creator of the term “Rock and Roll”.

Alan Freed was born near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on December 15, 1921. His birth name was Albert James Freed. When he was a child, Freed’s family moved to Salem, Ohio. Always interested in music, he played trombone as a teenager in a band called the Sultans of Swing.

Freed was hired by radio station WKST in New Castle, Pennsylvania, in 1942. He became a sportscaster for WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1943. Two years later, Freed became a disc jockey at WAKR in Akron, Ohio. He remained in Akron until 1949, when he moved to Cleveland to join the staff of WXEL-TV. In 1951, Freed began hosting a rhythm and blues program on WJW radio in Cleveland, using the nickname “Moondog.” His program soon had a large popular following. It was during this period that Freed referred to the music he played as “rock & roll” for the first time. At first, much of his audience was African-American. Soon many other Americans began listening to this new style of music. Freed is credited with hosting the first live rock & roll concert in 1952.

Freed moved to WINS radio in New York City in 1954, and “rock & roll” became a common term across the nation. Freed worked with a number of live “rock & roll” concerts which were broadcast by radio across the country. He also acted in a number of movies with musical themes. In 1957, Freed began hosting a live show on ABC television.

In 1959, Freed was caught up in the broadcasting “payola” scandal. He later admitted that he had accepted bribes from record companies to play their records on the radio. This scandal led to his dismissal from his television and radio jobs.

Freed continued to work as a radio disc jockey in Los Angeles, Manhattan, and Miami. Freed died in Palm Springs, California, on January 20, 1965.

In 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in Cleveland. Freed was inducted as one of the organization’s original members. He also became a member of the Radio Hall of Fame in 1988. A motion picture about Freed’s contributions to the development of rock & roll called American Hot Wax was produced in 1978.

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