The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum


Posts by Dr. Lauren Onkey

Today in Rock: Bruce Springsteen Lands an Audition with Columbia Records

Thursday, May 3: 12 p.m.
Bruce Springsteen's big break came in 1972

By the time Bruce Springsteen walked into CBS Studios in New York in May of 1972 to audition for Columbia Records, he’d been playing in rock and roll bands for seven years – from the garage rock/soul hybrid of the Castiles to the thundering guitar jams of Steel Mill to the soul music of the Bruce Springsteen Band. Steel Mill built up a following along the East Coast and even recorded a few demos for Bill Graham in February of 1970. But Springsteen had no experience with record companies or serious recording studios. He was also at a crossroads in his career. Although he’d had local success, he was unsure of his future direction. He signed a management contract as a solo artist with Mike Appel, who encouraged him to develop his songwriting, in hopes of possibly having Springsteen emerge in the popular singer-songwriter mold.

Appel managed to get an audition for Springsteen with the legendary John Hammond – a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee. Hammond had been at the center of popular music since 1938, when he organized the From Spirituals to Swing concerts at Carnegie Hall. He signed some of the most important artists of ...


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A Surprise Performance

Thursday, November 10: 3 p.m.
Aretha Franklin on stage with (l-r) Ronald Isley and Dennis Edward

Our agreement with Aretha Franklin for this year’s American Music Masters program was that she would attend the tribute concert but would not perform. Of course, I always hoped that she would decide to sing a song, but I never pressed the issue. After all, hasn’t Aretha given us enough? We were gathered to honor what she has accomplished, not to demand more. We wanted to recognize, in professor Daphne Brooks’ words, “her brilliant body of work as a musician who materially and emotionally connected with mass audiences in complex ways that went unmatched by her peers.” The night’s fantastic performers did her justice and then some, as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Jerry Butler, Dennis Edwards and Ronald Isley, in addition to Cissy Houston, 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominee Chaka Khan, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Twinkie Clark, Carla Cook, Melinda Doolittle and Mike Farris all brought their A-game.

After Dr. Franklin received her honorary degree from Case Western Reserve at the beginning of the evening, she watched the show from the audience with her family. We worked it out that she would return backstage during the last song of Ms. Lauryn Hill ...


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American Music Masters Moments: Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew

Thursday, October 27: 11 a.m.
Dave Bartholomew dancing during a 2010 American Music Masters event

American Music Masters Moments: Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew is the second installment in a series that shares stories from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's American Music Masters® events through the years. The first post in the series remembered Les Paul. Beginning in 1996 with a tribute to Woody Guthrie, the American Music Masters series has honored artists who've been instrumental in the development of rock and roll with a range of events celebrating their careers. Each AMM brings together musicians from around the world, setting the stage for special, once-in-a-lifetime moments. These are those stories.

For me, the best part of American Music Masters is hearing first-hand stories from the musicians who worked with the honoree. They tell fascinating stories about recording sessions, concerts and late-night card games. When we honored Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew last year, we were able to bring the surviving members of their original band to town: Billy Diamond (bass), Ernest McLean (guitar), and Herb Hardesty (saxophone). It had been years since they all were together, and listening to them sitting around, reminiscing with Dave Bartholomew and Cosimo Matassa, who recorded them all at J&M Studies in New Orleans ...


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Remembering the Creole Beethoven: Wardell Quezergue

Wednesday, September 7: 1 p.m.
Wardell Quezergue

We were saddened to learn about the passing of the “Creole Beethoven,” Wardell Quezergue, yesterday in New Orleans. Quezergue, 81,  was one of the giants of New Orleans music – one of those folks who is responsible for so many great, funky records that define the city’s distinctive rhythm and blues. He arranged countless classics: Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief,” The Dixie Cups’ “Iko Iko,” King Floyd’s “Groove Me,” Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff,” and Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue,” to name just a few. In 1992, he did the arrangements for Dr. John’s “little history of New Orleans music,” Goin’ Back to New Orleans. He also co-wrote “It Ain’t My Fault,” a staple of New Orleans’ brass bands. In 2000, he released the extraordinary A Creole Mass, a “prayer of Thanksgiving” that he began writing while stationed in Korea. He had been pulled from the front line to work as an arranger for the army band. His replacement was killed in action. He finally completed the work, a masterpiece for orchestra, chorus, brass band and vocals.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Education Director Jason Hanley and I had the honor of meeting ...


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Hearts of Heart: Ann and Nancy Wilson

Friday, August 26: 4:07 p.m.
(l-r) Ann and Nancy Wilson / Photo by Norman Seeff

When we discussed potential artists to include in the Women Who Rock exhibit, everyone wanted Heart included. Breaking out in the mid-1970s, Heart mixed hard rock riffs with intensely rhythmic acoustic songs and powerful harmonies, crashing onto FM radio like they owned it. Since then, they’ve managed to navigate changing trends and definitions of rock in the MTV and grunge eras with both hits and critical acclaim, and their most recent album, Red Velvet Car (2010), ranks with their best.

Ann and Nancy Wilson visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week for a terrific Legends series. They sat down with me for an interview, and then performed acoustic versions of “Dog and Butterfly,” “WTF,” “Sand” and “Crazy on You.” It was a great night. They shared their thoughts on the history of women in rock and roll, their influences and heroes, and their songwriting craft. They were funny and insightful, and obviously big time rock and roll fans.

Heart came out of the gates strong with their first album, Dreamboat Annie, which was released in the U.S. in February of 1976 and quickly climbed the charts behind the “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man” singles ...


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2011 American Music Masters Honoree: Aretha Franklin

Tuesday, August 23: 7 a.m.
Honoring the "Queen of Soul"

In 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – a fitting tribute to the "Queen of Soul," the woman who for more than 50 years has been the expressive, passionate voice of soul music. More than 20 years later, Franklin continues to be a driving force in the world of music, and I am thrilled to announce her as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's 2011 American Music Masters honoree. 

 

The American Music Masters series will honor Ms. Franklin with a weeklong celebration beginning on October 31, featuring special events presented by the Rock Hall and series partner Case Western Reserve University.

 

Aretha Franklin is a masterful singer, pianist, performer and arranger, whose catalog of recordings highlights a brilliant versatility that spans myriad genres: gospel, jazz, blues, pop standards, rock, funk – the list goes on. She constantly breaks down boundaries between styles of American music, revealing the connections between them, across generations. In the words of Princeton University professor Daphne Brooks, she has “reinvented the fabric of our musical culture.” In the process, she has inspired millions of people around the world to sing, to speak, to climb ...


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She's Got the Power

Monday, August 1: 4:52 p.m.


Photo: Lauren Onkey, Laura Greenwich Weiner, Jean Thomas, Mikie Harris, Paul Schaffer, Susan Collins, and Seymour Stein

This past weekend our friends at the Ponderosa Stomp put together an amazing tribute to the girl groups as part of the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival.  The Saturday night concert featured a parade of great women singers, songwriters and producers who had taken over rock and roll in the early sixties – from Arlene Smith of the Chantels, who started it all with "Maybe," to Maxine Brown, Baby Washington, the Angels, La La Brooks, Lesley Gore and the Exciters.  Also on hand to perform the backing vocals were women including Mikie Harris and Jean Thomas, who sang on countless sessions in New York in the girl group era, and Toni Wine, a great singer, songwriter, and arranger.  And that's just a sample. The show closed with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Ronnie Spector delivering a thunderous performance of "Be My Baby," backed by the biggest and best army of backup singers ever assembled.

It was a soaring tribute to the era when women first broke into rock and roll. I was at Lincoln Center as part of the Rock ...


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Our wonderful time with Jerry Ragovoy

Monday, July 18: 4:51 p.m.
Jerry joined us for the American Music Masters tribute to Janis Joplin.

We were saddened to hear the news about the death of Jerry Ragovoy. Jerry was one of the greatest rock and soul songwriters and producers. His passionate, beautifully crafted songs continue to resonate: “Time is On My Side,” “Stay With Me,” “Get It While You Can,” “Ain’t Got Nobody to Give It To” and “Piece of My Heart,” to name just a handful. I was honored to interview Jerry at the Rock Hall’s American Music Masters tribute to Janis Joplin in 2009. He shared some great stories about how he wrote songs and what drew him to rhythm and blues. He talked extensively about working with Joplin (she recorded five of his songs: “Piece of My Heart,” “Cry Baby,” “Get It While You Can,” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” and “My ...


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