For years, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been hit by criticism that its initiates – the marble busts in the pantheon of rock – were too homogeneous and that the secret insiders who create the ballots showed a disturbing pattern of excluding women.
This year, voters seem to have been listening: the 2021 class includes Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, the Go-Go’s, Carole King, Tina Turner and Todd Rundgren – a collection of 15 people, including seven women.
That ratio alone should energize the 36th annual induction ceremony scheduled for October 30th at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.
In the past few years, when women were accepted, they were far inferior to men. In 2019, for example, Stevie Nicks and Janet Jackson might have triumphed, but their serious speeches – Jackson, “Please introduce more women” – didn’t seem to last as long as it took to name every male bassist from the rock bands that joined them at.
The latest contestants demonstrate a genre and generation balance that has become a feature of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s growing tent. Foo Fighters, led by Dave Grohl, represent the cream of alternative rock from the 1990s. Jay-Z is rap incarnate. And the Go-Go’s stand for joyful, optimistic power pop of the 1980s.
Each of these acts was a first-time nominee, although the Go-Go’s – the first and only all-woman rock band to hit a # 1 album on Billboard’s charts – have been approved since 2006. (Artists can be nominated for 25 years after their first recording is released.)
Rundgren, the prolific producer and multi-instrumentalist, takes on the role of author of the heyday of classic rock in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Turner is a force of nature whose career has spanned from old-school R&B to MTV-era pop. and King is the singer-songwriter and conscience that Gravitas brings to the process.
Three of this year’s candidates were already in the hall: Grohl as a member of Nirvana, Turner with Ike and Tina Turner and King as a nonperformer with her songwriting partner and former husband Gerry Goffin.
The story of inductions is also told by whoever didn’t make the cut. Voters – a group of more than 1,000 artists, journalists and industry veterans – voted against the bands Iron Maiden, Devo, New York Dolls and Rage Against the Machine, as well as against Kate Bush, Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan and Dionne Warwick.
Fela Kuti, the Nigerian-born Afrobeat pioneer, was this year’s surprise nominee and one of the artists selected in the Hall of Fame’s Fan Vote – an online public poll that produces a single official ballot – thanks in part to the Support from African stars like Burna Boy. Kuti would have been the first black artist from Africa to join the hall, but he failed his first ballot. (Trevor Rabin from Yes is from South Africa, and Freddie Mercury from Queen was born in Zanzibar, now part of Tanzania. Both bands are in the Hall of Fame.)
And LL Cool J, a hip-hop titan who again received high-profile support this year, lost after a sixth nomination. But he received a Musical Excellence Award for people “whose originality and influence in creating music had a dramatic impact on the music”. This category was once known as the Sidemen Award, but it’s also a consolation prize: producer and guitarist Nile Rodgers won it in 2017 after Chic, his band, was passed eleven times.
Other musicians this year include Billy Preston, the keyboardist who worked frequently with the Beatles, and Randy Rhoads, a guitarist with Ozzy Osbourne.
Also this year the Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-performer goes to the record manager Clarence Avant, and the trophies with “early influence” go to Gil Scott-Heron, Charley Patton and Kraftwerk, the German electronic pioneers nominated for the introduction six times.
The induction ceremony will later be broadcast on HBO and streamed on HBO Max.