I recently saw a comment online about why Whitney Houston and The Notorious B.I.G was not qualified to be inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I wondered for a moment if I should be angered by this, and should I debate the origins of true Rock & Roll’s roots with the author of the post. I wanted to remind them of how the term Rock & Roll was created by a disc jockey by the name of Alan Freed, used to describe black R&B records that were of high energy. From the black roots of blues emanating from the local juke joints, to legendary stories of Robert Johnson selling his soul for a wicked lick on his well-worn guitar, rock’s origins could not be denied.
Rock & Roll is the love child of blues and the hard-rocking melodies of many different recordings of the early 1940’s and 50’s. The early rock and roll sound was created by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a black woman who was born well over 100 years ago. Little Richard to Chuck Berry, from Bo Diddly to Jimi Hendrix, many of their white counterparts in this music genre owe a substantial amount of credit to these individuals. The Rolling Stones’ love for black music propelled them to super stardom, not to mention the millions of dollars Elvis Presley cultivated from early soul music. I though very carefully for a measured response that wouldn’t make me sound to preachy, after all I wanted to make my case solid in my statement.
Then I considered the segregation of black artist in the early 70’s and 80’s at the television award shows. Whenever an artist such as Michael Jackson and Prince would win it would be for best black single or best black artist of the year categories. Just look at some old footage from early 80’s clips on YouTube and you will see what I mean. As a child at that time, I was just so happy to see one of my favorite artist win, I didn’t take in the totality of the apparent segregation of music had been at that time.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inducted every popular rock band from Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue, Aerosmith and countless others that they deem worthy of being beacons of light for the almighty throne of this genre. I mean, where would a place be for artists such as Hip Hop and R&B legends Run DMC and Parliament Funkadelic? Would we the have to take the time to create separate Halls of Fames for R&B and Hip Hop, knowing full well that those halls would not be so revered as such an institution as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Would these events get the same amount of airtime and promotion to garner the same amount of recognition deserving of a legendary artist?
Whitney Houston and Biggie Smalls may be not the standard examples of your typical hard rocking artist with waving guitars and crashing drums. But consider Rock & Roll’s origins and take a step back and think about what Rock& Roll music really is. The music is full of high energy, up tempo beats and emotional gravitas that make the souls and hearts of the listeners race. I concede that LL Cool J would look a little awkward standing next to Alice Cooper, but I’m quite sure both artist would respect what the other does in the long run.
It’s about appeasing the masses and making the fans satisfied with the resulting product. Music is what it is: music. The categorization of music is what holds up the most barriers, it’s become denominational not unlike church on a Sunday morning. We idolize our music gods and stand firm on our personal beliefs of what a good song should be and not for what it really is. Maybe would should remember the joy that songs can bring from any artist if it’s good and celebrate together. We owe that to the legends who gave a treasure of memories and good times. So, let hip hop and R&B artists in with no trepidation, but with confidence that being honored is one of the greatest things we can do for one another despite our tastes and beliefs.