The Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame inducted its fifth class of inductees on Sunday (June 11) night in Detroit, an eclectic group that ranged from Motown legends to a ’60s rock hero and several behind-the-scenes figures.
The four-hour ceremony at the city’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts was ramshackle but fueled by the warm spirit of a family reunion where everybody was generally happy to see each other — even somebody like Mitch Ryder, who told the gathering “I’m as confused by you are” by his R&B Hall of Fame inclusion, but nevertheless considered it “quite an honor, one that will last the rest of my life.”
Ryder was joined by fellow Detroiters Freda Payne, onetime Motown Funk Brother Dennis Coffey, Gladys Knight & the Pips (represented by Knight’s brother and Pip Merald “Bubba” Knight), the Marvelettes, the Impressions, Gerald Austin, Carl Carlton, Motown’s first white act the Valadiers and, posthumously, James Brown, Mary Wells and Isaac Hayes. Unsung Heroes inductees included producer-writer Mike Powell, Motowners Sylvia Moy and Carolyn Crawford, Wade “Butterball Jr.” Briggs, Skip Mahoney & the Casuals, Fred Goree, Jeff & the Atlantics and Barbara Acklin, and special awards were presented to Martha Reeves, Jackson 5 patriarch Joe Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Chi-Lites and others.
The ceremony’s show-stopping moment was a duet on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Austin and Cooke’s daughter Carla Cooke, while other performances included the Contours’ opening the night with Motown founder Berry Gordy’s “Hello Detroit,” a Temptations tribute medley by the Dramatics, a trippy, tracked medley by the Chi-Lites’ Marshall Thompson, a rendition of the Impressions’ “Gypsy Woman” by Motown’s Fantastic Four, “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)” by the Stubbs Girls (progeny of the Four Tops late Levi Stubbs) and a full-throttle, gymnastic James Brown impersonation by Tony Wilson.
Wells’ daughter Stacy honored her mother with an impromptu a cappella rendition of her first single “Bye Bye Baby,” and James Brown’s daughter Deanna spoke about lessons she learned while traveling as her father’s hairdresser.
Gene Chandler broke into a bit of the Impressions’ “It’s All Right” while accepting the group’s award; Its two surviving members, performing overseas on Sunday, sent a thank-you video. Ryder, meanwhile, brought Joe Harris, a member of his first vocal group the Peps, on stage during his speech, in which he thanked his parents for being “negligent…they forgot to teach me there was a color line.”
The R&B Hall was founded in 2010 by Cleveland sports and entertainment impresario Lamont “Showboat” Robinson. The organization is working to secure a building — potentially in Detroit, but Robinson has also been in discussions with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff about putting a museum in Philadelphia. More information can be found at www.rbhalloffame.com.