March 21, 1952: First Rock and Roll Concert Foiled by Racism?

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A Brief History

On March 21, 1952, disc jockey Alan Freed (inventor of the term “rock and roll”) and record store owner Leo Mintz staged the first rock concert in Cleveland, Ohio!

Digging Deeper

At the time, our country was divided by race, with African-Americans who served the country during World War II expecting to achieve something more like equality than the segregation and discriminatory treatment of the day.

With major civil rights milestones such as integration of the armed forces in 1948 and landmark events such as Brown v. Board of Education and the Rosa Parks led bus boycott right around the corner, many people black and white were ready for a change.

Of course, many more were not!  Rock and roll music evolved from African-American musical styles and many younger European-Americans readily took to it whether the performers were black or white.  The Moondog Coronation Ball scheduled for March 21, 1952 was not only the first real rock and roll concert organized but had the (for the time) rare distinction of combining black and white performers.

Held at the Cleveland Arena, a venue fielding about 10,000 seats, advance tickets were $1.50 and those quickly sold out.  Unfortunately, tickets for another concert were accidentally printed with the March 21 date and there was some ticket counterfeiting going on as well, resulting in over 20,000 people showing up.

Rock and roll may have been in its infancy, but rock concert fans were still rock concert fans, and authorities (Fire Marshall) closed the show after only one number!  Although public safety is a reasonable conclusion for the closing, it has been speculated that authorities were just looking for a reason to stop the integrated show.  No proof of that exists, but with the segregated nature of the music industry it seems plausible that people interested in the status quo would take offense to mixed race performers playing for an integrated crowd. It is hard for people that did not experience the racial discrimination and strife of that time to understand how pervasive it was.  Reading about it and watching newsreel clips only gives a little of the real feeling of the time.

Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams played one song and it was over!  The Moondog Coronation Ball lives on in the form of an oldies concert by that name every year since 1992 (40th anniversary) held in Cleveland.  The 2014 Moondog Coronation Ball will be held on March 29 at Quicken Loans Arena and will feature luminaries such as Steppenwolf, Tommy James and the Shondells, Herman’s Hermits and The Family Stone!  Unlike 1952, tickets cost a little more, with the cheap seats starting at $37.75.

Long live Rock and Roll!  We shall see you there!

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever been to a concert in Cleveland, Ohio?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Feran, Tom and John Gorman.  The Buzzard: Inside the Glory Days of WMMS and Cleveland Rock Radio–A Memoir.  Gray & Company, Publishers, 2008.

Miller, James.  Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947-1977.  Simon and Schuster, 2000.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.