Father of the phrase’s ashes lose place in Rock Hall

SALEM – “Rock ‘n’ roll will never die” was made famous by Alan Freed, a refrain that helped burn a path to Cleveland as the home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in the 1980s.

It also earned Freed, a 1940 Salem High School graduate, and the top disk jockey of his day, a showcase location in the hall of fame larger than the “Beatles” display.

Rock ‘n’ roll may never die, but the work to find a him place to rest in peace will continue after Freed’s son Lance picked up his father’s remains from the hall of fame Monday.

On Saturday, a Cleveland Plain Dealer story announced the Rock and Roll HOF wanted his ashes, on display for 12 years, removed.

A U.S. Army veteran, Freed died in 1963 after taking the biggest fall during the payola scandal that ripped through rock radio in the ’50s and ’60s.

He was originally buried in Hartsdale, N.Y., before being placed in the hall of fame in 2002.

Hall of Fame President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Harris said the Plain Dealer story was “not entirely accurate” regarding how Freed’s removal from display occurred, but he acknowledged that he initiated the talks.

Harris said Freed, who was an original inductee, is “incredibly important” to the hall of fame and the move in no way “diminishes his importance.”

He said the urn “was always on loan and they did not donate it.”

The remains were installed in a private setting and then in a public place at the family’s request. Harris said museums no longer consider it appropriate for such exhibits.

Todd Mesek, vice president of marketing and communications for the Rock and Roll HOF, said talks began about the possibility of returning the ashes so that they could be moved to a more appropriate resting place.

The family wanted a public display and once talks started Harris said they explored placing the remains on the front plaza on city property with a memorial but Cleveland City officials said a city ordinance against placing human remains there prevented that.

Mesek said they met with Lance Freed to discuss more suitable locations including Lake View Cemetery which holds important historical figures like John D. Rockefeller, President James A. Garfield, Elliott Ness and others.

If the Rock and Roll HOF doesn’t want Freed, there are people in Salem who would love to have him return and efforts to bring him back have begun.

Whether is was the right thing to do or the correct procedure or not, former city council President Michele Mickey Weaver was so compelled to do something she called the HOF on Monday to let it know Salem is interested in having Freed return.

She was advised it was not in the hall of fame’s purview.

David Stratton, director of the Salem Historical Society, said he had received a couple of calls. Freed’s parents are buried in a family plot in Hope Cemetery, he said, noting his father worked at the Golden Eagle Men’s Clothing Store in Salem.

Stratton said, “We’d like to have the opportunity to talk to the family. His roots were here in school … he wrote for the school newspaper. We’d like to discuss this with his family … at least put Salem in the loop of discussion. This is a logical place to at least be considered.”

Mike Mancuso, the new executive director of the Salem Sustainable Opportunity Development Center, said, “The only thing I want to say from an economic development standpoint is bring him home. We’ll find him a home here.”

Akron radio station WONE is mounting a campaign to keep Freed in with its “Keep Freed in the Rock Hall” headlining its website homepage and WAKR, where Freed once worked, compiled a page of hit songs that refer to “rock ‘n’ roll” in the lyrics and inserted the word “Blank” wherever the term that Freed coined is sung.

During a call to WAKR’s Ray Horner show on Monday morning, Lance Freed talked about what will happen to his father’s remains (the following used with permission of WAKR).

After saying he was at first surprised and disappointed in the Rock and Roll HOF’s decision, Freed said the family would “love” for his remains to stay at the hall of fame. He went on to say, “I’m thinking that maybe one of the best things that can happen is that a decision about where his remains go (is made)… he can be honored and remembered and respected for his contribution to music and remembered by the people who supported him all those years and who continue to this day.

“I’m proud of what he did … don’t think the fact he is being moved out … his spirit is not going to be moved … but I’d like that to come from listeners …”

The Rock and Roll HOF said it was hopeful and too important that Alan Freed remain in a fitting location in Cleveland.

It said, “Our decision to remove the ashes from exhibition and return them to the family was done out of respect. Alan Freed will always be a significant part of the story that we tell at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.”

Freed is the subject of the 1984 movie “American Hot Wax” and in 1991 John A. Jackson published the definitive work on Freed with his thorough look at him with “Big Beat Heat – Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock and Roll.”