Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Original DJs

From raves to clubs, DJs have never been more popular. The first DJs were entirely different, but broke the ground for what followed.
One of first famous DJs was Alan Freed who was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1921. Freed became an international celebrity in the 50's and 60's and is credited by some people as being the Father of Rock and Roll. Although other people were playing and promoting this music before Freed, he did coin the expression and was largely responsible for it popularity. One of the real contributions that Freed made to music and society was his promotion of African American artists.
During a period when racial conflict was at its height, Freed is given credit for doing a lot to foster a sense of racial integration in the minds of a whole generation of American youth. He eventually began to use the name "Moondog" as his on-air persona. On March 21, 1952, The Moondog Coronation Ball was held in Cleveland, Ohio. This event is considered to be the first Rock and Roll music concert. It was so popular that it was ended early because of the overcrowding. Despite all of Alan, Moondog, Freed's contribution to culture and music, his career was destroyed by the Payola Scandal in the late 1950's.
In the 1960's, a young aspiring DJ was influenced by the on air antics of Moondog Freed. His name was Robert Weston Smith and he had been born in Brooklyn, New York in 1938. He developed his own on-air persona called Wolfman Jack. The Wolfman was known for his wild on-air behavior which included his trademark of howling at the moon. Wolfman Jack was featured in George Lucas's feature film, "American Graffiti" in 1973. Playing himself, he was the disc jockey that tied the events of the film together with his on air banter.
Wolfman Jack reached the peak of his career after the Payola Scandal that destroyed the reputation and career of his mentor, Alan Freed. Payola was the term given to the money paid directly to a disc jockey to play and promote certain music. In 1960, this practice was declared illegal and control of what music was played began to be assumed by the program director. After this, it was not as easy for an individual DJ to have as much influence on the type of music played and made Wolfman Jack's accomplishments and fame even more amazing.
Today, there are many famous DJs. They are famous in their play areas and they are famous among the clubbers who flock to hear their music on Saturday night. They are famous among the couples that put off their weddings for a year or more to insure that their "famous" DJ is booked for their reception. They may not have the power to dictate the type of music that will become popular, but they reflect our choices and entertain us with the music we love.
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