The Heart of Rock and Roll

By Jennie Thomas, Host Committee Co-chair

Moondog advertisement
Announcement of the Moondog Coronation Ball at the Cleveland Arena, March 1952. WRHS. Courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

Northeast Ohio played a significant role in the history of popular music. Beginning with WJW deejay Alan Freed’s radio show on which he first coined the phrase “rock and roll” to refer to the musical style and his staging of the earliest rock concerts (the Moondog Coronation Ball), Cleveland continued to play an important role through the promotion of significant national artists and the development of FM radio during the 1960s and 1970s. It was also a mandatory stop for touring musicians as rock evolved beyond rockabilly, blues, and rhythm & blues.

The region as a whole has produced seminal performers in rock music, including the Raspberries, Hall of Fame Inductees Joe Walsh (Eagles) and Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders), Devo, Pere Ubu, the Dead Boys, Hall of Fame nominee Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Kid Cudi, the Black Keys, Cloud Nothings, and many more.

Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys, undated. The Dead Boys were one of the most violent and rowdy of the first wave of U.S. punk rock bands. Photograph by Anastasia Pantsios. Courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Jane Scott of the Cleveland Plain Dealer was one of the most beloved writers of the rock and roll genre; a journalistic legend whose fame as one of the first rock critics spread far beyond Northeast Ohio. At a time when the newspaper business was challenging for women writers beyond those writing for the society pages, Scott was not only a woman writing about the male-dominated rock scene but was also at least a generation older than most of its performers and fans. She took seriously what was commonly considered music for teenagers, bridging the gap between generations, and bringing legitimacy to the field with her enthusiastic writing style. For nearly five decades, she wrote about the music and reviewed artists ranging from stadium headliners to obscure local bands, documenting thousands of people, places and events that otherwise would have been lost to history.

Jane Scott. Courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Cleveland is also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and its Library and Archives. While everyone has an opinion regarding who should be in the Hall of Fame, most can agree that the collections and exhibits of the Museum and Library and Archives — which exist to collect, preserve and interpret the impact of rock music and not just to document the history of the Hall of Fame or its Inductees — are world-class institutions. The Library and Archives holds the preeminent collection of written and audiovisual materials relating to the history of rock and roll, and sees an increasing number of visiting scholars every year from as far away as Paris, Hong Kong, and Australia. Its collections include books, dissertations, periodicals, commercial sound and video recordings, and thousands of boxes of archival materials, including personal papers, correspondence, photographs, song manuscripts, business records, contracts, press kits, posters, flyers, clippings, bootleg audio and video recordings, and original content created by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, including the complete recordings of the Annual Induction Ceremonies, as well as educational programs and series created by the Museum, like Music Masters and Songwriters to Soundmen, among others. The institution is also home to the local music collecting initiative, the Northeast Ohio Popular Music Archives, or NEOPMA.

The Northeast Ohio music scene is still flourishing, and you’ll definitely get a taste of it while you’re here! Aside from the dessert reception at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, a number of national acts are in town that week. Offerings include everything from Alice Cooper and the farewell tour of Mötley Crüe to Social Distortion, Chicago, Daris Rucker, Rasputina, and 5 Seconds of Summer — along with a whole lot of wonderful jazz and orchestral music and local rock and punk! Check back in a couple days for our global list to music shows during the week of SAA!

Additional Sources:

Carlo Wolff, “Hello Cleveland: The City’s Rock and Roll Legacy,” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Cleveland’s Rock History, Destination Cleveland.

John Petkovic, “Lost Cleveland: Rock ‘n’ Roll Landmarks that Made Music History,”

Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University.