BY: JOEY REAMS
Earlier this month, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced this year’s inaugural inductees, including Foo Fighters, Tina Turner, The Go-Go’s, and Jay-Z. When most people think of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they understandably think about the history and significance of rock and the genre as a whole. The museum is dedicated to recording the history of some of the best-known and most influential musicians, bands, producers, and others that have in some significant way influenced the music industry, particularly in the area of rock and roll. So when you hear Jay-Z, a New York rapper, was inducted, you might wonder why it’s called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and not simply the Music Hall of Fame. To better understand this, one needs to go back in history to see how the legendary museum came into existence.
The Origins of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located near Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, opened on September 2, 1995, after years of planning. The idea began more than a decade earlier, in 1983, when businessman Ahmet Ertegun put together a team of executives, including Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, for the idea. Soon the committee began looking for the right location for the museum, considering Philadelphia, Memphis, Detroit, Cincinnati, New York, and Cleveland.
Each city had its argument for the case, but Cleveland won due to WJW DJ Alan Freed coining the term “rock and roll” and promoting the new genre on his radio show. On top of that, Cleveland was the location of Feed’s Moondog Coronation Ball, considered the first major rock and roll concert.
“It was $65 million… Cleveland wanted it here and put up the money.” Co-founder Jann Wenner later said, “One of the small, sad things is we didn’t do it in New York in the first place,” but then added, “I am absolutely delighted that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is in Cleveland.”
The idea behind this hall of fame was simple: “to engage, teach and inspire through the power of rock and roll. We share stories of the people, events, and songs that shape our world through exhibits, innovative programs, and concerts,” according to their website. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on June 7, 1993, with Pete Townshend, Chuck Berry, Billy Joel, and many more. Two years later, the museum was dedicated on September 1, 1995, with appearances from Yoko Ono and Little Richard. The following night, an induction concert took place, with performances by Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, and many more.
Although the hall of fame and museum didn’t officially open until the early 90s, the inductees started coming in the mid-1980s. There were four original categories: performers, non-performers, early influences, and lifetime achievements. In 2000, the committee would add a fifth category, ‘sidemen,’ for those who weren’t always in the spotlight. The first inductees came in 1986 and included Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley. As of February 2021, there are 338 inductees.
How Genres Influence Other Genres
At its original inception, it’s clear the inductees all represented and influences the genre of rock and roll one way or another. These inductees are carefully selected by 1,000 rock experts who understand the genre better than anyone. One musician from the first class can be considered a little different from the rest, James Brown. The “Godfather of Soul” was a dynamic bandleader who helped popularize funk music, influencing rock and roll. The tricky part about Rick James is that he didn’t only influence rock and roll but also other genres. If one were to follow the trail of influences his music has created, they would also see he largely helped popularize R&B and soul. From here, you can see the inductees aren’t solely responsible for the popularization of rock and roll, but music as a whole.
Soon enough, more artists similar to James Brown would be inducted for the influence on the genre. Still, at this time, the lines aren’t as distinctive, and it’s clear how these genres intermingle with each other and influence one another. Other early inductees that aren’t entirely rock and roll include Stevie Wonder, LaVern Baker, and Ruth Brown. Since there were arguments made for why these artists deserve to be included in the hall of fame, no one questioned it.
To qualify for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there are a couple of requirements. First, the artist can only become eligible 25 years after their first record. After that, the artist must have significantly influenced the development and perception of rock and roll. These criteria are easily interpreted differently.
Soon enough, Parliament-Funkadelic, Michael Jackson, and Run-DMC were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with solid arguments for how they influenced rock and roll. This loosely interpreted influence on rock and roll would continue for many years to come, eventually leading to inductees that some fans can’t see the connection to rock and roll.
Why We Recognize Everyone Today
It’s easy to see why we recognize artists from different genres, but today’s inductees seem a bit out of place without the knowledge. This unfamiliarity started in the mid-2000s, starting with Run-DMC, holding a strong argument for their case. Following them, Beastie Boys would be inducted and Public Enemy, N.W.A., Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., and most recently, Jay-Z.
To some fans, the distinction still isn’t clear as to how a rapper helped influence rock. One has to dive deeper into the music and try to understand the roots of the genre. All genres are connected in some way. Most of the time, genres can be traced back to either folk, blues, or jazz. These genres all branched out into different subgenres, such as rock and roll, R&B, and soul, eventually leading to hip-hop. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wouldn’t be doing justice to music history by not including these artists. Instead, they prove how diverse the genre is and displays the many different styles and influences rock and roll has.