Remembering David Bowie: Cleveland helped launch career of music icon into American spotlight

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Former WMMS DJ Billy Bass remembers David Bowie and his first show here in Cleveland (Photo Credit: Fox 8 News)

Former WMMS DJ Billy Bass remembers David Bowie and his first show here in Cleveland (Photo Credit: Fox 8 News)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- People all over the world are mourning the loss of music icon David Bowie and remembering his more than 40-year career with deep roots right here in Cleveland.

Bowie's publicist announced Monday that he passed away after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 69.

When Bowie was a young man, it was Cleveland listeners and a local radio station that launched him into the American spotlight.

Rock station, WMMS, was the first American station to play Bowie's music. Legendary WMMS DJ Billy Bass said the station was looking for something artsy and new that would appeal to its alternative music audience.

"We were in a crisis we were in a crisis because it was the 1960s, the beat generation, the hippies, and then along came 1970 and things changed and we needed a change," said Bass.

That's about when Bowie released two albums, "Hunky Dory" and "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars." The station played the songs, and the listeners loved Bowie.

"Wow, that just changed everything," said Bass. "Because of that, David Bowie's 'thing' spread across America."

Because of that, Bowie kicked off his first U.S. tour right here in Cleveland. It was a sell-out. A month later, he performed two more sell-out shows at Public Hall.

"He came to Cleveland before anywhere else," said Bass. "His music was so fresh, so arty, so new, so different from anything you could hear on the radio, that it was perfect for our alternative audience."

Bass also credits the foundation of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on those same two albums.

Bowie was inducted into the Rock Hall in 1996. He wasn't able to make the ceremony, but Madonna accepted the award for him.

"He was always looking for something new," said the Rock Hall's Carl Harp. "Bowie was really somebody who was doing an incredible amount of art. What he was really doing...was finding a way to take rock and roll and make it mean something, make it say something."

Bowie's roots in Ohio didn't end there.

His son, Duncan Jones, was among the 1995 graduating class at the College of Wooster. Jones later attended London Film School and is now a director and producer.

The College of Wooster's website includes an entry on Jones, in which he said the following:

"Wooster hit me at just the right time in my life. I was just starting to get excited about what I could do with my life. I took creative writing and art classes, and tried to spread out as much as possible…One of the wonderful things about Wooster was it gave us all a sense of empowerment...We wanted to make a difference and do things that people would notice."

After news of his death, many celebrities and family members of Bowie took to social media.

See below for some of their messages: