Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame President on Challenge of Inducting Deceased Acts: 'It Presents Opportunities'

Whitney Houston
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Whitney Houston performing on stage during the 2004 World Music Awards at the Thomas and Mack Center on Sept. 15, 2004 in Las Vegas. 

Whitney Houston, Biggie and T. Rex's Marc Bolan will likely be represented by family.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's great challenge with the Class of 2020? What do you do when half the inductees are no longer with us?     

That is indeed the case with the six acts voted into the Rock Hall this year. Whitney Houston, the Notorious B.I.G. and three of the four inducted members of T. Rex -- most notably founder and frontman Marc Bolan -- have all passed away. Their trophies will be collected by others, most likely family members, but since they're not around to perform, as most inductees do, it could be awkward at the May 2 ceremony.    

But Rock Hall President and CEO Greg Harris tells Billboard he views it as more of an opportunity as much as a detriment.  

"I think there's a way to honor, appropriately, anybody with the induction," Harris says. "I think it presents opportunities and challenges for building the production, and I think we've been very effective with that in the past." His for instances include tributes such as Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard singing in Sister Rosetta Tharpe's stead, a teaming of the Roots, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Andra Day standing in for Nina Simone, Sara Bareilles singing "Stoney End" to honor Laura Nyro and the cadres of Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, Carrie Underwood and Sheryl Crow singing for Linda Ronstadt.

"There's opportunities to bring in those artists who may have been impacted and influenced, and I expect pieces like that will come into (this year's) production," Harris says. 

As for the class itself -- which also includes Nine Inch Nails, the Doobie Brothers, Depeche Mode and Ahmet Ertegun Award recipients Irving Azoff and Jon Landau -- Harris find its diverse makeup to be among the most interesting in Rock Hall history. "It underscores the diversity of rock 'n' roll and also the evolution of rock," he says. "There’s different genres, styles, continents. That's within the bands, too: The Doobie Brothers had these distinctly different chapters; T. Rex started as a bit of a folk outfit and then transformed into this crunchy glam rock piece; Depeche Mode has had different chapters. And they're all products of their environment, and that's what makes their sound and defines them later in life."

Harris also pointed out that four of the six performing inductees -- the Doobie Brothers, T. Rex, Whitney Houston and the Notorious B.I.G.  -- were first-time nominees.

The Rock Hall is also bracing for the traditional backlash that comes with each class's announcement. This year could be particularly polarizing as only one act from the fan ballot -- the Doobies -- is being inducted, leaving top fan vote-getter the Dave Matthews Band, Pat Benatar, Soundgarden and Judas Priest on the bench. "It's interesting, because 8.2 million (public) votes were cast, and that's 8.2 million memories people had of hearing this music and celebrating it, so there's a lot of passion," says Harris. The bulk of the voting is done by a body of about 1,000 industry professionals, including previous inductees and other artists, historians and media.   

"There are a lot of votes at the top for some of these artists that have just incredible fan bases and well-connected fan bases that really pushed for them," Harris adds. "We think that's terrific. Sometimes the (rest of) the votes have aligned a bit more, but this was a year in which there were just so many fan votes for some of the artists, and it just didn’t correspond in the same way.  

"But as we know there's been a number of artists that were eligible for years and they finally get on (the ballot) and they get elected (in their first year). But there's also some pretty deserving artists that it took multiple times."  

Harris says the Rock Hall's curators will begin contacting inductees to get instruments and other memorabilia to include in a special third floor exhibit that's slated to open April 25 with a dedication and an outdoor concert, hopefully by one of the inductees. The week leading up to the induction ceremony at Cleveland's Public Hall will include concerts and other activities, as well as a special program with one of the inductees on April 30. On May 1, the day before the ceremony, the Rock Hall will dedicate the class of 2020's glass signature plaques, along with a nighttime fundraising gala.  

Details on all of the induction activities will be updated at