Kate Bush, Missy Elliott, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine, The Spinners and the late George Michael were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Friday.
The 38th annual ceremony took place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn with performances that spanned genres and paired different generations of stars, including an opening act with Crow and Olivia Rodrigo singing “If It Makes You Happy,” a pairing of honoree Chaka Khan and Common, as well as with H.E.R. and Sia, and a medley of Nelson’s songs featuring the 90-year-old performer alongside Dave Matthews, Chris Stapleton and Crow. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page made a surprise appearance to perform “Rumble” in honor of inductee Link Wray.
The evening concluded with an all-out performance from Elliott, decked out in a sequined gold jumpsuit, surrounded by backup dancers and running through hits such as “Lose Control” and “Get Ur Freak On.” With her induction, Elliott, who was introduced by Queen Latifah, became the first female rapper to be part of the Hall of Fame.
“This is the 50th anniversary of hip hop, so this is deeper than me just being up here,” said Elliott, while tearing up on stage. “You just feel like it’s so far to reach when you’re in the hip-hop world.”
Elliott also noted that this was the first concert of hers that her mother had attended, as she hadn’t wanted her to come to previous shows and hear her swear in songs.
The ceremony, and the selection of inductees, placed a strong emphasis on mixing genres and bringing more people under the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame banner, which has been an emphasis of chairman John Sykes. This also comes in the wake of derogatory comments made by Jann Wenner, co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine and a member of the Rock Hall’s board, who said women and Black artists were not “articulate enough” to be included in his newly published book about rock stars.
During the ceremony, Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s longtime lyricist, who was receiving an award for musical excellence, directly addressed these comments (which caused Wenner to be ejected from the board in September), while adding that the diversity of genres helps strengthen the industry.
“I’m honored to be part of the class of 2023 alongside such a group of profoundly articulate women and articulate Black artists,” Taupin said.
Elton John, who introduced Taupin before playing “Tiny Dancer,” also said that the two continue to work on new music together and just finished recording a new album that’s “going to surprise the shit out of you.”
Outkast’s Big Boi introduced the segment for Kate Bush, who was not in attendance, before St. Vincent sang “Running Up That Hill.” Calling himself the “biggest Kate Bush fan,” the rapper said while their music may seem different on the surface, he said he enjoys the way her songs “challenge” him as a listener.
“What I love about Kate’s music is that I never know what sound I’m going to hear next. She ignores anything that seems like a formula and instead just does whatever she wants to do, like me,” he said.
Nelson, who received one of the longest standing ovations of the night after his performance with Stapleton, Matthews and Crow, spoke about his famous collaborations with Ray Charles, saying that the two never talked about genre.
“We never asked each other what to do or whether to do a soul song or a rock song or a country song, we just sang the songs we loved,” Nelson said.
In addition to the emphasis on crossing genres, many of the speeches spoke to the political elements inherent in the inductees’ music and in their lives. In Matthews’ introduction of Nelson, the musician emphasized Nelson’s continued work with Farm Aid, which has raised funds for family funds since 1985, and what he sees as his takedown of corporate greed, among his other contributions.
“Through his words and through his music and through the example he sets, people feel a connection to Willie Nelson. Willie is an example of how the world would be if we could just straighten up and fly right,” Matthews said.
Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, who noted that he was the only band member in attendance due to their differing perspectives on being inducted into the Rock Hall, said that “the world is changed by average, everyday, ordinary people” and urged everyone to start making a difference “or at the very minimum just stir up a shitload of trouble.”
In addition to Taupin and Khan, Al Kooper were honored with awards for musical excellence, while DJ Kool Herc and Wray were honored for musical influence. The late Soul Train creator Don Cornelius was named the recipient of the Ahmet Ertegun Award, which honors individuals who are not musicians but have had an influence on the industry.
And despite their long careers and top hits, there was still an element of disbelief at their induction among many of the honorees.
After Crow opened the show with Rodrigo, and was introduced by Laura Dern, she also dueted with Stevie Nicks on “Strong Enough” and “Everyday Is a Winding Road.”
Crow later said she would not be where she is without Nicks, saying that she had ”found her command of words through [Stevie’s] imagery and her melodies.” She also said that she was a kid “who dreamed of rock n’ roll,” but that she also could not believe she was receiving this honor.
Crow added, “This is a little bit like getting an Oscar for a screenplay you haven’t finished writing yet.”