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The Moondog Case
 

 

Rhythm and blues, marketed as race music until 1949, acquired yet another name, rock and roll, in 1955. It involved Leo Mintz's protegee, Alan Freed, and a New York court case that focused on the name, Moondog. In Cleveland, Ohio Freed had called himself "The Moondog" while hosting his rhythm and blues radio program which he entitled, "The Moondog House Party."  On radio, Freed often used the language of rhythm and blues songwriters and performers which encouraged audiences to rock and roll. He opened each program by playing a phonograph recording called "Moondog Symphony" and repeated segments of it intermittently throughout the night.

 

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 Alan Freed's creative genius and success in Cleveland, Ohio attracted the attention of WINS Radio in New York City and a job offer. After arriving in New York with his Moondog concept, Freed encountered a legal problem. 

Louis (Moondog) Hardin, already working in New York,  took Alan Freed to court and sued Freed for intellectual property rights infringement. Hardin claimed ownership of the performance name, Moondog and enjoined Freed from using the name on radio and any reference to Moondog; and even from playing the Hardin composition, Moondog Symphony. Hardin won the case in late 1954.

The court's Moondog ruling against Freed forced him to focus on his radio show's core concept, blues and rhythm music. In relation to the music, Freed's clarion call to his audience and listeners, "...let's rock and roll,"  was moved to the forefront. It was repositioned into the name of his New York City radio show:  "The Alan Freed Rock and Roll Party." At that point, late 1954, both his radio show and its function, shared the same name. In early 1955, blues and rhythm music continued to explode across America, but under a new name. 

Alan Freed lay claim to being the first person to promote the music [rhythm and blues] under the name rock and roll; never having declared rock and roll was anything other than rhythm and blues. He never vacillated or equivocated. He was as clear in Look magazine in 1955 as he was in 1956 on the national television program, "To Tell The Truth." 

 

 

 
Rock and roll enveloped the careers of Bill Haley, Pat Boone, Sam Phillips, and Elvis Presley; destroyed Alan Freed, and led others to declare that rock and roll is separate from rhythm and blues. 

An incomplete transcript of the Hardin vs. Freed trial (click on below) is all that remains in the files of the 1954 New York court case. Nothing in the file suggests that Alan Freed attempted to actually change the name of rhythm and blues to rock and roll while in Cleveland, Ohio. On air, Freed referenced the "Moondog Show" or the "Moondog Rock and Roll Party." His program was a "big ole, blues and rhythm, records party." The lyrics in the records encouraged listeners to rock and roll and Freed did the same, on air. After Louis Hardin blocked Freed in New York City from using the Moondog name and theme, then, Freed emphasized the lyric phrase, rock and roll, as a name. Freed changed the name of his radio concept not the rhythm and blues music itself.

Abner Greenberg, attorney for Louis T. Hardin, seemed especially interested in questioning and digging into Alan Freed's business arrangements. Alan Freed was successfully promoting the already hot rhythm and blues culture, that was beginning to seriously challenge entrenched economic positions of ASCAP; allegedly controlled through the New York court system.

Alan Freed's radio popularity formed a peculiar confluence with that of white musicians who were drawn to rhythm and blues; namely, Bill Haley and His Comets. Parallel to Freed's 1951 introduction to rhythm and blues on phonographs, Haley, a performing artist, had begun to musically master the negro art form in 1950. Ironically, the phenomenal popularity of Freed and Haley reached the national media craze at approximately the same time, in 1955. Decca Records, Haley's label, immediately adopted and promoted him; using Freed's new name for rhythm and blues, rock and roll.

The R&B Moondog Show Court Case

Alan Freed - Official Site

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Early White R&B