After turning its 2020 induction ceremony into a special for HBO, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honored its class of 2021 in person on Saturday (Oct. 30) at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland with a star-studded four-and-a-half-hour show that navigated protocols but still managed to give all concerned their due.
There were surprises aplenty throughout the night, including Eminem and Jennifer Lopez performing with LL Cool J; Dave Chappelle inducting Jay-Z; and Keith Urban subbing for Bryan Adams, who tested positive for COVID-19, during the Tina Turner segment. The speeches were heartfelt and irreverent, both at the same time in many cases, but an overall sense of celebration for the most diverse group to be inducted into the Rock Hall to date.
Much of the ceremony will be aired by HBO starting Nov. 20, by which time some of the events that took place will likely have reached legendary or mythic stature. While we’re waiting for that, here are 15 things that happened during and before the ceremony, some of which won’t make its way into the HBO broadcast.
Foo Fighters & Macca Perform ‘Get Back’
The show came to an abrupt conclusion when Foo Fighters were joined by inductor Paul McCartney for a rendition of The Beatles’ “Get Back.” A planned, presumably all-star finale, had been scripted and rehearsed but was cut, ostensibly due to time.
Paul McCartney Inducts the Foos
During his speech, McCartney drew some parallels between his career and Foos founder and leader Dave Grohl’s, pointing out that both followed the breakups of their respective bands (The Beatles and Nirvana) by recording albums on their own. “Do you think this guy’s stalking me?” McCartney quipped. The other Foo Fighters were clearly a bit star-struck getting their props from McCartney, with most thanking him during their brief speeches.
What else was played on Saturday? Taylor Swift kicked off the Carole King induction with an ethereal version of the 1961 Shirelles hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” while Jennifer Hudson, showing off some of her Aretha Franklin chops from the Respect film, delivered a powerful “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” And Carole King herself performed “You’ve Got a Friend,” backed by longtime collaborators Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar and Russell Kunkel and their new band, the Immediate Family. LL Cool J blew the roof off with a set that included “Go Cut Creator Go,” “Rock the Bells” with Eminem, “All I Have” with Jennifer Lopez, and “Mama Said Knock You Out,” accompanied by a corps of dancers wearing white hoodies. Gary Clark Jr. played a solo version of Early Influence honoree Charley Patton’s 1929 single “High Water Everywhere.” Turner was saluted by Urban and H.E.R. with “It’s Only Love,” Mickey Guyton on “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and Christina Aguilera on “Nutbush City Limits.” Brandi Carlile and cohorts Phil and Tim Hanseroth capped the In Memoriam section with the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do is Dream.” The Go-Go’s blasted through “Vacation,” an extended “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat.” And the Foo Fighters turned three favorites — “Best of You,” “My Hero” and “Everlong” — into a succinct medley.
Carole King Reflects on Gerry Goffin
Carole King joined the ranks of second-time Rock Hall inductees on Saturday, getting in as a performer after being inducted as a songwriter with her late ex-husband and partner Gerry Goffin back in 1990. Goffin, she told Billboard, was in her thoughts as she received the latest honor. “If he hadn’t (passed away in 2014) he’d be here tonight cheering me on, just like in the musical Beautiful — ‘You’re going all the way!’” King said. “But it is different because I had this career of doing a thing I never thought I’d do, which is be a performer… I feel that as a performer, after all these years I’ve been actually doing it, it was just part of the way I bring the music to people and it’s just another way I do it as a performer, and I understand what an audience comes to see and hear. I know they don’t expect perfection.”
Jennifer Hudson’s Special Moment
Hudson shared with Billboard a special moment that took place during rehearsals on Friday. She was working out “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” with a keyboard in her dressing room when King, whose own dressing room was next door, walked in and offered some instruction. “I almost fell out of my chair,” Hudson said. “She sat down and played it for me, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing!’ To be able to have those moments is so wonderful.” Hudson and King, of course, co-wrote “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” for the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, which remains a pinch-me moment for the younger artist. “Ms. Franklin inspired me to want to be more creative and to expand myself musically, as a writer, and it was Ms. King who said, ‘Jennifer, you should write on this song,’” said Hudson, who’s returned to work on her next album after spending time promoting Respect. “To have someone like (King) say that inspires me to want to write more and follow in her footsteps.”
LL Cool J’s Rock Inspirations
During his acceptance speech and in the press room afterwards, LL Cool J — who received an Award for Music Excellence after six nominations — made a point to bridge any perceived divide between hip-hop and rock ‘n’ roll as relates to the Rock Hall. Citing inspirations such as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Billy Squier, he explained that he and his rap colleagues “appreciate rock ‘n’ roll. We’re not against rock ‘n’ roll. We’re not anti-rock ‘n’ roll at all. On the contrary, look at Run-DMC; They did ‘Walk This Way’ (with Aerosmith) ‘cause we used to listen to ‘Walk This Way.’ We love those beats. The (rock) guys should know we love them. We know they love us. I know Dave Grohl was listening to some LL and some Dr. Dre. We don’t have to pretend. And I definitely listen to some Foo (Fighters). So it’s all love.” In the press room, LL also donated the signature knuckle ring he was wearing to the Rock Hall.
Rock Hall Embraces Filmed Acceptances
After 2020’s entirely virtual show and with COVID still a concern, the Rock Hall embraced filmed presentations and even acceptances during this year’s ceremony. Tom Morello (for the late Randy Rhoads) Patti Smith (for Todd Rundgren), Barack Obama (for Jay-Z), Ringo Starr (for the late Billy Preston), Common (for the late Gil Scott-Heron) and Pharrell (for Kraftwerk) all made their speeches via film, while Tina Turner accepted her award with a clip from her home in Switzerland. No acceptance speeches were made for Preston, Rhoads, Scott-Heron and Kraftwerk.
Todd Rundgren Snubs Rock Hall
There’s no love lost between Rundgren and the Rock Hall, of course. While he snubbed the ceremony by performing in the southern part of Ohio, in Cincinnati (with a pair of Cleveland shows the following weekend) Rundgren was given a warm induction by Patti Smith and a generous tribute video. His de facto acceptance speech, meanwhile, came from 2017, when he received an honorary degree from the Berklee College of Music and said, “I’ve never had a No. 1 record, never been nominated for a Grammy, never been nominated, thankfully, for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If nominated I will not run, and if elected, I will not serve.” (For the record, Rundgren was nominated for a 1983 Grammy for best video, short form.)
Billy Preston’s ‘Well-Deserved’ Recognition
Though Billy Preston’s Award for Music Excellence was primarily for his prolific work as a sideman (including piano on The Beatles’ “Get Back”), former manger and CEO of Preston Music Group Joyce Moore told Billboard that she hoped he was also celebrated for his work as an artist and hits such as “Outa-Space,” “Will It Go Round in Circles” and “Nothing From Nothing.” “(A sideman) is not all of who he was,” Moore said, “But I’m thrilled he’s getting in. It’s certainly well-deserved, and it was something Billy had hoped for and wanted when he was alive. It was something that was heavy on his heart all those years, but it wasn’t to be while he was alive. So this is bittersweet. It’s long overdue and warranted and worthy. I’m just sad that he’s not here, because I know how much he would have enjoyed it — not from an egotistical view, just for the acceptance and honor and recognition of which he knew God gave him, which was his genius.”
Angela Bassett Honors Tina Turner
Angela Bassett, who received an Academy Award nomination for portraying Tina Turner in the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It, said afterwards that inducting Turner on Saturday was a no-brainer. “It’s really very thrilling, I couldn’t say anything but yes,” she explained. “It’s almost like, just, a real full circle moment… She will always be a part of me, and she occupies such a huge place in my heart, and in the hears of so many. Her resilience, her talents, her gift, her strength, her turning pain into power and triumphing over all, what’s possible for a woman at any age, on any stage, she showed that… There’s brilliance and there’s a story and there’s value still yet to be told. “
Carlile & Carlisle
Visiting the press room before the show started, Brandi Carlile joked about her kinship from afar with the Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle. “I’ve been getting called Belinda Carlisle since I started making music and having my name on a marquee,” Carlile recalled. “I would pull up to theaters and it would say Belinda Carlisle or have the ‘s’ in my (last) name. We finally met yesterday and decided to get a photo together so people could see we’re two different people. But I am in love with her and I’m so happy for the Go-Go’s. I couldn’t be more honored and excited to be confused for such an absolute pillar.”
Clarence Avant Sheds Some Tears
Long-time entertainment executive Clarence Avant (Venture, Sussex and Motown Records) was in tears as he came to the podium to accept his Ahmet Ertegun Award from Lionel Richie. Richie did a fine job of whipping up the crowd’s interest in the behind-the-scenes virtues of “The Black Godfather,” describing him as “rude, crude and abrasive — and that was his charm. His key negotiating words he liked to go to right away — ‘go f— yourself’ and ‘go to hell.’ And that meant he liked you.” Jimmy “Jam” Harris came to Cleveland specifically to be on hand for Avant’s honor and told Billboard later on that, “There are certain events in your life where there’s nowhere else we should be, and this night, to watch him be inducted, this is where I want to be. There are so many people who don’t know they’ve been touched by him … whether it’s s a song that they’ve heard or a TV show that they’ve watched… They’ve been touched by him.” Avant, meanwhile, thanked Rock Hall trustee “Big” Jon Platt for pushing for the honor.
Chuck D Defends Rap in Rock Hall
Public Enemy’s Chuck D was also anxious to defend rap’s place in the Rock Hall. Speaking during the dedication of the 2021 inductees plaque on Friday at the museum, D — who was inducted with Public Enemy in 2013 — intoned that “they say rap is not rock. Rap is not rock, but this is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We the roll, baby! Rock and roll, and when you say roll you roll with the fact that at the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll you have some (dark) skin roots.”
Surreal Moment for The Go-Go’s
The Go-Go’s revealed that during their Thursday rehearsal they were amused to see placeholder placards bearing their photos at their assigned table for Saturday’s ceremony. “In typical Go-Go’s fashion,” starting with Jane Wiedlin, they took markers and began comically defacing them. On Friday singer Belinda Carlisle related that, “Yesterday when we were rehearsing our set in the arena we all looked up at our faces on the screen and thought, ‘This is so f—ing weird. It’s totally surreal.’ We started in 1978 and had no idea what we were doing. We really didn’t. I guess we’re the embodiment that anything is possible.”
Drew Barrymore ‘Childhood Fantasy Is Fulfilled’
Drew Barrymore, who sported a Go-Go’s T-shirt, said the group has been “in my personal hall of fame since I was six years old.” The actress also showed off a photo of herself from 1984, at nine years old, with Belinda Carlisle. “It was always a party for the guys, but these girls were crashing it with joy, with exuberance … influencing so many kick-ass bands to come.” Before introducing the quintet, Barrymore then wrapped a towel around her body and her hair and put on face cream a la the band on the cover of its debut album, Beauty and the Beat. “Now my childhood fantasy is fulfilled,” the actress declared.
Additional reporting by Stacey Sherman