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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

GLEASON'S MUSICAL BAR

GLEASON'S MUSICAL BAR

GLEASON'S MUSICAL BAR, 5219 Woodland Ave., was Cleveland's first ROCK `N' ROLL nightspot. The owner, William "Jap" Gleason, began presenting live rhythm & blues MUSIC, which was then called "race music," in his restaurant in the late 1940s. When ALAN FREED joined WJW-AM in 1952, he played this same music on the air, but called it rock `n' roll. After his radio show, Freed and his friends would dine at Gleason's and watch performances by Ruth Brown, the Flamingos, Charles Brown, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Big Maybelle Smith, Varetta Dillard, and Bull Moose Jackson. Because of the large migration of AFRICAN AMERICANS to the industrial cities of the north during World War II, many rhythm & blues bands toured between Chicago and Boston. Cleveland's new eastside black population flocked to Gleason's to hear the music from their home in the South. Gleason's became a popular stop on a touring city to city route that would be called the "chitlin circuit." As Freed's format of rock `n' roll became popular with youth, so did Gleason's. Record company promotion men, radio jocks, and writers made Gleason's a local music industry hot spot. Gleason's closed around 1957, a casualty of changing musical tastes. By that time, white musicians had taken over rock `n' roll and the black population was listening to the new Motown sound.