Category Archives: Rock Hall

Keep running up that hill: Rock Hall 2023

When I edit students’ papers, I always try to give them positive notes first. Then I hit them with what they did wrong. In that spirit, let’s talk about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2023, announced today.

Chaka Khan. Chaka Khan. Chaka Khan Chaka Khan Chaka Khan.

First and foremost, standing ovation for the induction of Missy Elliott! Misdemeanor is truly one of the GOAT. Her mix of Southern hip-hop and electronic dance beats emerged fully formed on Supa Dupa Fly in 1997, at once inimitably Missy and widely imitated. She was a rare woman behind the boards and the scenes, writing and producing songs for other artists, including Aaliyah. And of course her videos blew the game up for female fashion standards. The omission of women rappers from the Rock Hall up until this point was one of the institution’s most grievous failures. I love that the woman who showed how to rock a garbage bag broke that glass ceiling at the pyramid in Cleveland.

I’ve critiqued the hall’s nominating committee plenty in the past, but I am thrilled that they selected Chaka Khan for one of this year’s Musical Excellence prizes. To their credit, the committee has nominated her multiple times but the voters have never supported her. This was the right, honorable way to get her past the goon squad.

Overall, the list of inductees is good. I’m super stoked about Kate Bush, even if it took a TV show to get the voters’ attention. Sheryl Crow, George Michael, Willie Nelson, the Spinners: These are all worthy talents. And while I’m not 100 percent sure that Rage Against the Machine are more worthy than other chronic Rock Hall snubs (Queen Latifah) or peers (Bjork), I personally love them. Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.

That said … the Rock Hall ain’t nothing but a bunch of hound dogs. Since its first inductions in 1986, the Cleveland institution has year after year ignored Willie Mae Thornton, original singer of “Hound Dog,” among other accomplishments. The hall will induct Link Wray and DJ Kool Herc in the Musical Influence category. Why not Big Mama?

You know why not: SEXISM. It has been the hall’s tragic flaw since year one, when not a single woman was inducted. Including this year’s class, only 8.63 percent of total inductees are women. That percentage has changed little since I first began calculations in 2019. The good news: 20 percent of this year’s inductees are female. That’s not close to parity, but it’s better than the zero women inducted in 2016.

The induction of all-male groups and solo female artists is part of the continuing problem. For every Sheryl Crow that gets in (yay!), there are five Spinners (also yay!). All those bros on the nom comm seem scared of sister acts, of girls together outrageously. Sorry Salt N Pepa, Bikini Kill, Labelle, Shangri-Las.

But the biggest problem is in full evidence this year, despite the Rock Hall’s repeated recent vows to be less hegemonically white male: The circle jerk of the additional categories. The Musical Excellence, Musical Influence, and Non-Performer (named after legendary prick Ahmet Ertegun) nominees are not on the performers ballot that is sent to the voters. Instead they are chosen in a secret ritual held in a treehouse filled with cigar smoke on Jann Wenner’s Montauk estate, with a hand-lettered sign on the door: NO GIRLS ALLOWED.

Okay, they’re chosen by small committees in the back room of a restaurant in Little Italy where oaths of omerta are sealed with blood.

All right all right, they’re chosen by small committees about which little is known – but I’m guessing are testosterone-heavy.

The use of these categories has increased in recent years, which one might think would be part of that effort to diversify. Indeed they have been used to induct hip-hop artists, such as Kool Herc, who otherwise are ignored by the rockist, racist followers of Gene Simmons. But with the exception of Chaka Khan, the opportunities afforded by the supplementary categories have not been used to rectify the cock hall’s gender problem. Only four of the 62 managers, songwriters, DJs, journalists, etc., who have been inducted in the non-performer category are women. This year, there’s one inductee – Don Cornelius. The Soul Train creator is an important figure, but like so many men associated with the rock hall, he has also been accused of sexual misconduct.

I have to admit I’ve grown weary of carrying the torch on this issue. I’m extremely grateful for all the music lovers out there who have taken up this cause, including the folx at Future Rock Legends and Who Cares about the Rock Hall?, Twitter agitator Nick Bambach, the members of the nom comm who are trying to create change from within, and most recently, the formidable Courtney Love. Ms. Love, please keep using your platform to shame the boys club. In Janet Jackson’s legendary words, #InductMoreWomen.

Research assistance provided by Tyler Roland.

Leave a comment

Filed under Rock Hall, Women Who Rock

Rock & Roll Hall of Lame?

​​​​

CORRECTION NOTE: We missed one woman in our original count; this blog has been updated accordingly. The correction did not change the overall projections. I worry that my readers are tired of hearing me complain about a certain Cleveland institution. I know I am wearied by complaining. So this year, I thought that I would pass the mic to my research assistant, Tyler Roland. My LMU student assistants help me crunch the numbers every year. This time Tyler–a guitar player, music lover, and writer himself–also throws down some words. According to our calculations, women–including Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, and Cyndi Lauper–make up a paltry, not-even-token 14.63 percent of this year’s nominated individuals. People of color account for 34.15 percent. The only thing that I would add to Tyler’s argument is that I am thrilled and relieved that Missy Elliott is on the list (and also personally excited about Joy Division/New Order.) If Elliott doesn’t get inducted, well, then you will all be getting quite the earful from me in a few months.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Lame Fame has once again proven their inept handling of the rock and roll genre with their announcement of nominees for this year.  Just a quick glance at the list (and inductees from years past – take just a year ago, for instance) reveals just how seismic the shift is needed in annual inductions for there to be even a meaningful number of POC and, especially, women, in their ranks.  Women that are POC?  Forget it – this year, out of the 41 nominations, one is a black woman – Missy Elliott.  That’s 2.44%.  Please.  

Further stats make for further depressive reading.  Iron Maiden’s a great group, but do we really need all nine of its white guys in the hall?  I suppose there’s some BS technicality that lets that happen, but they alone make up 21.95% of the potential class.

I hear you begging for the best-case scenarios.  What if only the women got in, and no acts with any male presence got the nod?  Well…

The hall overall would turn 8.93% feminine.  As it stands, the hall is 8.56% female.  Again – a seismic, Richter-level shift is needed to get the hall into some more respectable territory.  An RRHOF with 20 or 25% women just ain’t happening. 

The situation is a little better with POC, but that is saying little.  We’ll play the what-if game with only acts featuring POC.  The Rock Hall is currently 31.79% nonwhite.  The same logic we used earlier would mean the hall would turn a whopping 32.76% nonwhite.  Still shameful.

The above scenario would also mean that the Rock Hall would remain mostly women-free, with the 2023 class making it 8.57% women.  If only feminine acts got in this year, the hall would be 32.03% POC.  

So, the Schlock and Bull Hall of…okay, you get it.  Though some decent acts could be getting the shout-out they deserve in 2023 (see: Kate Bush, A Tribe Called Quest), the whole establishment, like the GRAMMYs, is still far from representing quality music, and the artists that produce it, as a whole.  Crank up those acts that deserve more respect from a tired, old, pale-as-a-sheet corporation in Cleveland…that means more than this place ever will. — Tyler Roland

Leave a comment

Filed under Rock Hall, Uncategorized

Sweet dreams are made of meh

Meh.

I’m happy for Annie Lennox, Carly Simon, Pat Benatar, Sylvia Robinson, Elizabeth Cotten, and of course Dolly Parton, now that she’s realized what even the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee knows: She rocks. I’m also thrilled about Harry Belafonte and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

But I’m gutted that nominees Dionne Warwick, Kate Bush and A Tribe Called Quest didn’t make this year’s class of inductees. Overall, I’d say it’s a respectably varied but rather mediocre year for the Rock Hall (especially after the thrills of last year). In terms of progress toward diversity and inclusion, the gains are, well, losses overall.

My research assistant, Loyola Marymount University student Maude Bascome-Duong, and I did our annual numbers crunching, and this is what we found: Of the 28 musicians and industry figures being inducted, six are women (listed above). NPR erroneously stated that’s a record: In fact last year, seven women were inducted. 21.43 percent of this year’s inductees are women; again, that’s better than many previous years but lower than 2021’s 28 percent. The good news is the total percentage of women in the hall continues to rise, ever so slowly: From 8.17 percent to 8.56 percent. Yay, we gained 0.39 percent! Guess I’ll stop worrying about losing control over my own health decisions and throw a rock hall dance party! Sweet dreams indeed!

SCRRRREEETTCCHHH! (That’s the sound of a needle skating across an album, my millennials.)

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame diversity statistics, number of inductees per year.

Feminism requires an understanding of the intersection of identities, as we all know. So, how is the hall doing in terms of racial diversity? Worse than meh.

By our count, six of the inductees are BIPOC (Robinson, Cotten, Jam, Lewis, Belafonte and Lionel Richie). That’s a 14.57 percent drop from 2021 and part of a long-term slide from the hall’s early years, when minorities were often a majority, to this year’s accumulative total of 31.79 percent, down from 2021’s 32.38 percent. So in terms of diversity, that’s .39 percent forward ladies, .59 percent backwards for non-white artists.

Let’s put it this way: Dionne Warwick, Salt N Pepa, the Pointer Sisters, Labelle, Queen Latifah, Big Mama Thornton, Roxanne Shante, Chaka Khan, and Mary J. Blige are still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But now, Duran Duran is.

2 Comments

Filed under Rock Hall

Rock Hall on a roll?

Last night’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony gave me hope for the future of the institution. Opening the show with Taylor Swift inducting Carole King was a brilliant choice perfectly timed given the week of Tay-Tay trending. And how great was it to start the evening with King’s classic “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” the first song performed by an all black all female group (The Shirelles) to reach number one in the United States. King, Tina Turner, and the Go-Go’s were my three top choices among this year’s nominees and all three made it in. The selections covered a diverse array of genres and eras, from a Brill building songwriter and singer to Kraftwerk’s electronic innovations to hip-hop pioneers Jay-Z , LL Cool J and Gil Scott-Heron. There was even a sui generis rock band, the Foo Fighters. I loved the generosity of the evening, the way rappers honored rock and roll and rockers honored hip hop. And I loved the repeated displays of girl power.

But — and given that I am a Rock Hall scold, you knew there had to be a but — I’m still immensely disappointed that the Rock Hall had to undermine the gender parity of the acts inducted in the main categories by only inducting men in the supplemental categories. I also think it was a programming error to end the evening with Foo Fighters instead of Jay-Z, although I admit it allowed me to go to bed a little bit earlier. I’m not saying that Foo Fighters didn’t deserve to be inducted (they didn’t), but Hova’s speech was so powerful, funny and moving, it was the high note note we should have ended with. Closing with a rap act also would have signaled once and for all that the Rock Hall is inclusive of all the genres that have been birthed since the integration of music in the 1950s and 60s. (Fuck you Gene Simmons.) I understand that the hall probably wanted to close with Paul McCartney, who inducted the Foo Fighters. But Paul seemed more like everyone’s favorite drunk uncle (at least we got that tradition out of the way for Thanksgiving week) than a great finale.

What would have been real fire would have been to end with the usual all-star band playing “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Can you imagine Jay-Z and LL Cool J trading off verses on Gil Scott-Heron’s classic proto rap? With Carole King on piano! Plus the Go-Go’s as backing singers?! Instead we got the usual tired narrative of rock and roll through the lens of white men.

Because, of course, the revolution can not be televised.

2 Comments

Filed under Rock Hall, Uncategorized

The Rock Hall Class of 2021: 3 Steps Forward, 7 Steps Back

It sounds great. The Go-Go’s, Carole King and Tina Turner — my top three choices among the year’s nominees — all being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as performers, at long last. (Turner and King were inducted previously, but not for their solo performance work.) Half of the six acts being inducted into the performer category are female, and almost half (46.67%) of the individual musicians are women. (If, say, original drummer Elissa Bello were being inducted with the Go-Go’s, there would be total gender parity.) Given the hall’s horrible track record – a paltry 7.63% of total inductees prior to this year are female – this looks like progress. “Head over heels,” I tweeted when I awoke this morning to the news, referencing a Go-Go’s song (but you probably knew that).

But scroll down a little further. In addition to the six acts being inducted as performers (the men are Jay-Z, the Foo Fighters, and Todd Rundgren, if you care), the hall took the unusual step this year of inducting three acts under the Early Influence category, three under Musical Excellence, and one for the Ahmet Ertegun Award, for non-performers. Guess how many of those seven inductees are or have female members? Here’s a hint: It’s the same number of women who were in the 17 acts inducted into the hall during its first year, 1986.

That’s right: zero.

After years of criticism for their entrenched sexism and creeping racism, Cleveland’s music institution seems to be attempting to change course. Under the leadership of new chairman John Sykes, who has called for more diversity and inclusion at the clubhouse founded by the patriarchs of the record industry, the hall offered a diverse selection of nominees this year, yielding a fairly strong slate of inductees. (Though Foo Fighters over Fela Kuti? Todd Rundgren over Dionne Warwick? Really?!)

Three steps forward, seven steps back: the all-male slate of additional inductees skews the count back toward its stone age past, making the total percentage of female inductees 28 percent. Okay, that’s nine times better than the 3.45 percent of 2020’s winners (ie, Whitney Houston), but then that was a pathetically low bar. This year’s class rectifies the long-term trend of gender imbalance by a measly half a percentage point: Now, 8.17% of inductees to the hall over the past 35 years have two X chromosomes.

And most egregiously, still not a single business woman has ever been inducted into the Ahmet Ertegun non-performer category. (King, Ellie Greenwich, and Cynthia Weil have all been inducted as songwriters, along with their male partners.)

I applaud the Rock Hall’s efforts to honor artists who have been too long snubbed by voters, particularly Kraftwerk and LL Cool J. I have no issue with any of the seven deserving acts that have been added onto the main category; Gil Scott-Heron, Charley Patton, and Clarence Avant add diversity to a hall that started with impressive racial balance but has increasingly skewed white. But given that special committees handpicked by the Rock Hall selected these inductees, you might have thought they would have checked their gonads at the door. Why not honor Chaka Khan, Big Mama Thornton and Sylvia Rhone as well?

La plus ca change …

3 Comments

Filed under Rock Hall

Turbulence at the Rock Hall

Black History Month Spotlight: Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston is the only woman being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 2020.

In her 1998 piece Turbulent, Shirin Neshat juxtaposes two videos. In the first, a man in a white button-down shirt stands in front of an auditorium of other men. He turns to face the camera and sings a work by the Persian poet Rumi, accompanied by string instruments that are not filmed. It’s a powerfully emotive performance – a series of ululated exclamations — rewarded by a round of applause; the man takes his bows.

In the second, a woman in a black hijab stands in front of an empty theater and softly begins moaning. The camera rotates to her face slowly. She sings wordless scales, with the only accompaniment the amplified echo of her own voice, panting and bell-like and screeching – a one-woman emotive cacophony. When she finishes, there is no applause. There is no one there to clap.

Turbulence answers the old riddle: If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? The woman, Iranian vocalist and composer Sussan Deyhim, makes a mighty sound – as have the other women, across time and space, who have sung their songs in the privacy of their showers, their bedrooms, their walks, their woods because no one could, or would, hear them. Neshat was directly commenting on the fact that in her birth country of Iran, women were not allowed to sing in public after the Islamic revolution (they now can sing only in limited circumstances). But I see the bold, disturbing binary depicted in Turbulent as relevant across cultures.

How many little girls have been told they should be seen and not heard? How many aspiring musicians have auditioned for A&R men – and they are almost always men – only to be asked to trade their bodies for a contract? How many women have gotten past the casting couch only to be told they’re not skinny/pretty/pale/soft/sexy enough? How many were kept off the airwaves because only one woman was allowed on the playlist – because (as one country radio consultant infamously said) they were the tomatoes in the salad, not the lettuce? How many were allowed to be representatives of feminine beauty, but only for one song, one year, before they were deemed too old? How many were recognized for the innovations – the genius — that made them not necessarily popular, but pioneers? How many are saluted as legends? Are in the Songwriters Hall of Fame? Are in the Rock&Roll Hall of Fame?

We can answer the last two questions: 31 songwriters, or 7 percent of the total body, and  — as of today’s announcement of the class of 2020 – 140 artists, or 7.68 percent.

The halls’ omissions are striking. I do not think they accurately correlate to the successes of women in music, though that’s a hard thing to quantify. They certainly do not correlate to the efforts and effects of female musicians, to the percentage of women in the world, or to any known genetic link to musical talent. What they do represent are the gendered tastes of the mostly male nominating and voting bodies that make these decisions. They are today’s version of the Shriners or Masons: bro’ societies devoted to self-perpetuation. They are patriarchies.

Which makes it all the more offensive when they insist their decisions have nothing to do with gender or race, but only with quality (as both Rock Hall Foundation CEO Joel Peresman and former Rock Hall Board chair Jann Wenner have recently said). When they say that, they tell us that Chaka Khan, Big Mama Thornton, Cher, Labelle, the Go-Go’s, Bette Midler, Celia Cruz, Selena, Bjork, Dionne Warwick, Pat Benatar, etc., etc., are not actually good, but are just women. They add insult to injury.

The halls didn’t necessarily erect the obstacles that have historically kept sisters from achieving the fame and fortune of their brothers – though many of the industry insiders who created and run the halls certainly did work for companies infamous for sexual discrimination. But by repeatedly inducting only a puny, token number of acceptable ladies, they enshrine those gags – and then say they were earned.

Look outside the industry. In your home, in your schoolyard, in your gym, around your campfire: who makes the music? Who sings the songs?

And who is listening?

Turbulent is included in Shirin Neshat: I Will Greet the Sun Again, an exhibit currently at the Broad museum in Los Angeles, https://www.thebroad.org/shirinneshat.

You can read my previous writing about the Rock Hall here:

https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8543758/rock-roll-hall-fame-gender-racial-diversity-guest-opinion-evelyn-mcdonnell

https://longreads.com/2019/03/29/the-manhandling-of-rock-n-roll-history/

https://www.salon.com/2011/12/11/the_rock_hall_of_fames_women_problem/

 

1 Comment

Filed under Rock Hall, Uncategorized, Women Who Rock

Rock Hall Keeps Getting More Male and More White

NOTE: THIS POST HAS BEEN CORRECTED TO STATE THAT FOUR PEOPLE OF COLOR ARE IN THIS YEAR’S INDUCTEES.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the 2020 inductees this morning. The good news is both Whitney Houston and the Notorious B.I.G. are included. The bad news is Houston is the only woman among the 23 people honored (including the non-performer honorees), and she and Biggie are two of the only four people of color. That means 4.34% of this year’s class is female, and 17.39% is POC. Cumulatively, that means the Rock Hall continues to get less diverse by race and gender: 7.68% of the total number of inductees is female, down from the already depressing 7.77% of 2019. For POC, that’s 32.4%, down from 32.77%.

These results should throw down the gauntlet for new Rock Hall Chair John Sykes, who has said that increasing the hall’s diversity is his top priority. He will have to take strong, decisive actions to reverse this steady decline.

Stylistically, the lineup is slightly more diverse than in some years, including T. Rex, the Doobie Brothers, Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails. Chaka Khan was snubbed once again — a fact I consider an outrage. The only other woman nominated, Pat Benatar, was also passed over.

Thanks to LMU graduate student Marika Price for crunching the numers.

You can read my previous writing about the Rock Hall here:

https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8543758/rock-roll-hall-fame-gender-racial-diversity-guest-opinion-evelyn-mcdonnell

https://longreads.com/2019/03/29/the-manhandling-of-rock-n-roll-history/

https://www.salon.com/2011/12/11/the_rock_hall_of_fames_women_problem/

2 Comments

Filed under Rock Hall, Uncategorized