This Date in Music History: March 21

The first Rock & Roll concert and Son House's 110th birthday

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Today marks the 60th anniversary of what is widely considered the first Rock & Roll concert, DJ Alan Freed's deliciously monikered "Moondog Coronation Ball." The concert (co-produced by local record store owner Leo Mintz) was another testament to the underrated importance of Ohio in the development of Rock & Roll, taking place in Cleveland at the Cleveland Arena, which hosted hockey and basketball games (it was demolished in 1977). Freed, of course, was the great Cleveland DJ (and "King of the Moondogers") who was crucial in the popularization of Rock & Roll, introducing both the genre's name and the music to the world through his radio program on AM station WJW.

In an era when segregation was very much prevalent in society, the Moondog Coronation Ball drew attention for its unsegregated bill, featuring both black and white performers, as well as welcoming both black and white fans to attend. (Freed's black fans were reportedly shocked to discover at the concert that the DJ was actually white.) The popularity of this new-fangled Rock & Roll music became apparent the evening of the show when wwaaaaayyy more people showed up for the concert than the arena could accommodate. The arena held just under 10,000 people, but 20,000 turned up, partly due to additional tickets being accidentally printed. Fans stormed the gates, overcrowding the arena and leading the media to call it a "riot" (adding to Rock & Roll's reputation for being "dangerous," which only made it more popular). The Moondog Coronation Ball is still held today, though the excitement level, of course, is a little more muted. 

Read more about that historic concert from the BBC (which declares that the Moondog event "laid the foundations for every rock gig that followed, from Woodstock to Glastonbury") here. Here's a clip from a documentary about Freed (the concert is discussed at around the 4:30 mark) by fellow DJ Frank Allan. (Be sure to check out this excellent site maintained by Freed's family about the legendary music man.)

Click on for Born This Day featuring DJ Premier, Solomon Burke, Deryck Whibley and Son House.


Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a March 21 birthday include late R&B legend Solomon Burke (1940); founder of ’70s rockers Mungo Jerry ("In the Summertime") Ray Dorset (1946); rocker Eddie Money (1949); singer/songwriter for Supertramp ("Take The Long Way Home," "Dreamer"), Roger Hodgson (1951); lead singer for Philly Soul greats The Stylistics, Russell Thompkins Jr. (1951); the only actor to play (brilliantly) both Sid Vicious and Beethoven on the big screen, Gary Oldman (1958); drummer for classic Christian Metal band Stryper, Robert Sweet (1960); the DJ half of legendary Hip Hop duo Gang Starr, DJ Premier (1966); singer/MC/songwriter for British Electro rockers The Prodigy, Keith Andrew Palmer, better known as Maxim Reality … or just Maxim (1967); singer/guitarist for Canadian Punk/Pop/Metal/Rock band Sum41 (and former Mr. Avril Lavigne), Deryck Whibley (1980); and Blues pioneer Son House (1902).

Son House was born Eddie James House, Jr. on this date 110 years ago in Riverton, Miss., and grew up wanting to become a Baptist preacher. But the lure of Blues' forbidden fruit eventually led House to teach himself guitar in his mid-20s. Then he killed a dude.

After serving two years (out of the sentenced 15) for the crime (he claimed self-defense, saying the man shot him in the midst of a shooting spree), House met Charlie Patton and Willie Brown and began playing with them at small gigs around Lula, Miss. Patton got an offer to record some songs for Paramount Records in 1930 and Brown and House traveled to Wisconsin with him and ended up recording tracks as well. House did nine songs and wouldn't record another commercial release for 35 years. Fortunately, famed musical historian Alan Lomax recorded House in 1941 and 1942 for the Library of Congress.

In 1964, House found out that his music had become quite popular thanks to the Folk revival of the times.

House returned the music biz, touring clubs and festivals all over the world and recording for CBS Records. He enjoyed a successful career as a musician until the mid-’70s, when poor health forced him to retire. He moved to Detroit and died from cancer there in 1988.

House's guitar style has been widely influential on Blues and Rock players, from Robert Johnson to Bonnie Raitt to Jack White, whose band The White Stripes famously covered House's "Death Letter." White says his favorite song ever is "Grinnin' In Your Face," which, ironically (given White's own guitar genius), was an a cappella track. But it's truly an amazing recording — check it (and White talking about the song) below.

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