Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Class of 2024

The Award for Musical Excellence

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Class of 2024
“...the Hall’s selection processes have been arcane, resulting in confusion among voters as well as mistakes in who has been recognized and who has been bypassed.”

That sentence is actually not about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (hereinafter RRHOF or Rock Hall), but about the Baseball Hall of Fame, and comes from my friend Jay Jaffe’s book The Cooperstown Casebook, about the Baseball Hall of Fame. I met Jay back when I was one of the first group of baseball bloggers – some of you reading this followed my old blog – and I had intended to approach my analysis of the 2024 RRHOF inductees rationally, instead of going all Godzilla in Tokyo on this year’s travesty. I wanted to refresh myself on how baseball’s HOF worked and see if I could find some kind of unemotional way to be constructive about my feedback.

I have realized it is pointless to try to see if there’s some lessons to be learned from the Baseball HOF for many many reasons. The list of voters is secret. The criteria for selection is not published. There are no objective measures for music that can be quantified the same way there is for baseball. But mostly, IT IS COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY MADE UP AND THEY CAN DO WHATEVER THEY WANT.

What sparked that train of thought was the admission of Big Mama Thornton via the Musical Excellence Award, which is given to “artists, musicians, songwriters, and producers whose originality and influence creating music have had a dramatic impact on music” and the fact that Big Mama Thornton is getting in in 2024 and wasn’t part of the first class in the Early Influences category is the entire problem. The nominating committee makes their own rules. There’s nothing that says that only seven artists can be inducted each year. There was absolutely no reason the Rock Hall couldn’t have said, “The first three years we’re going to catch up.” or  “We’re going to do a separate ceremony for Early Influences.” Given that the first few years of the RRHOF there wasn’t a TV broadcast there were no limits of broadcast time, they could have inducted 75 people if they wanted to. 

You don’t think it matters? It matters. When Sister Rosetta Tharpe finally got inducted in 2018, I had to argue with some schmoe on the internet who listened to 30 seconds of one song by her and said “she doesn’t sound like rock and roll, she sounds like gospel” and besides the publicly demonstrated complete and total lack of understanding of the history of rock and roll and the self-confidence of a mediocre white man on the internet, the RRHOF shares more than a little blame in this situation. If they had declared, back in 1986, that this was the foundational class of people, these were the influences, if they had taken Sister Rosetta and Big Mama Thornton and Bessie Smith (class of 1989) and Ma Rainey (class of 1990) and  - yes, there would still be mediocre men with zero understanding of history involved in this discussion. But we would have at least had an actual baseline. 

It does not go unnoticed that most of the early pioneers of rock and roll are Black women. 

The Rock Hall makes the rules! They could have done this! At any point in the early years they could have caught up to everyone they didn’t catch in the first 5 years or so: “This was an oversight. We are fixing it now.” But they don’t have to be accountable to anyone and despite the trend of some voters posting their ballots publicly, it’s not like baseball where writers regularly share their ballots and private individuals put together spreadsheets collecting this data. We don’t know how most of the Rock Hall voters cast their ballots. We don’t know who was close and who almost got in. We don’t know who is being stupid or bull headed or who is voting for the people they think are their friends or voting because someone they know is involved. We don’t know the demographic breakdown of Rock Hall voters. 

We don’t know! 

I don’t know whether I’m surprised or disgusted that the MC5 are being inducted after Wayne Kramer’s unexpected passing earlier this year. Wayne’s widow, Margaret Saadi Kramer, posted an incredibly gracious comment on instagram regarding the MC5’s induction this year (into Musical Excellence, not Performers, which is a fucking travesty): “Yes, it’s bittersweet. Perhaps even the exact right thing at precisely the wrong time, yet, I’m certain he would have landed in gratitude for this recognition and received it like the beautiful free radical he was, an underdog victorious.”

Wayne Kramer shouldn’t be inducted posthumously. The MC5 should have been in a long, long time ago. But, I mean, thought leaders like Bob Lefsetz didn’t think Patti Smith deserved to be in the RRHOF because 1) she wasn’t cute, like Heart and 2) only people from the coasts liked her. Lefsetz is representative of the kind of groupthink that exists inside the people who have nominating privileges for the RRHOF. I know this because despite saying many stupid things over the years he is regarded as a deep thinker, someone who has his finger on the pulse! Art is subjective. Music is emotional. There isn’t any way to determine a baseline we can measure everyone against. 


Finally, I want to talk about Suzanne de Passe’s nomination for the Ahmet Ertegun Award, which is high time and well deserved. The Ahmet Ertegun Award is given to “non-performing industry professionals who have had a major influence on the creative development and growth of rock & roll and youth culture.” The last female recipient was Sylvia Robinson, in 2022. 

But before that, the only women who received the award were ones whose nomination was in tandem with a man:

  • Carole King and Gerry Goffin - 1990
  • Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann - 2010
  • Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry - 2010

(Carole King was also inducted as a performer in 2010.)

When does Florence Greenberg get her turn? Or Jane Friedman? Like, there's a long list. Just asking, for a friend.

How is Dionne Warwick nominated under Musical Excellence and not as a performer? Because she is getting old and they are worried and apparently this is how we're getting people in these days.

Future Rock Legends notes that there are 1,012 members of the RRHOF. 923 men and 89 women. 8.79% of inductees.

They could fix this at any time. The lack of action is a choice.