Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Photo © Peter Hastings, All Rights Reserved
Alan Freed's original Moondog Coronation Ball, which was shut down a few minutes into the first set by the Cleveland Police on March 21st, 1952, is the stuff of Rock legend. Some historians, confusing later events in Freed's career after he moved to NYC and popularized "Rock 'n' Roll" among white teenage listeners, have claimed that the crowd that night was "mostly white." But in fact it was almost entirely black, though many surviving photographs are too small or blurry to confirm this. A few years ago, I was able to track down the man who took these original photos, the late Peter Hastings. At the time, he was a freelancer, though his services were later retained by the Cleveland Orchestra, where he was their  longtime official photographer. When I spoke with him on the phone, he recalled the evening as chaotic, and the light was so dim inside the Cleveland Arena that he used a long exposure; he was only able to get off a few shots before everything 'went crazy.' The image above is a digital scan of a new print, and any copyright in it is retained by him -- but I thought it worth sharing online, as clear images of that night are so rare. You can see the guys in their fedoras and porkpies, the gals in their dancing dresses, and what I believe to be the first (and only) act, Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams, on stage. The dancers are moving too quickly for the slow exposure, and appear as blurs, or images connected by blurs -- this could be thought a flaw, but I think it underlines the kinetic, ephemeral nature of that evening, and evening that was about to come to a premature end only moments after this fleeting photograph was taken.

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