The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum


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Women Who Rock spotlight: Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday

Wednesday, July 6: 3:38 p.m.
Billie Holiday's fur stole in the Museum's Women Who Rock exhibit

I saw the film Lady Sings the Blues, starring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Diana Ross, when I was about 11 years old.  One of the images in the movie that still resonates with me is one in which the around 11-year-old Billie Holiday, circa 1926, is working as a cleaning and errand girl for a Baltimore “house of ill-repute.” When she is supposed to be scrubbing the front stoop, she sneaks away and spends most of her time leaning over the Victrola in the brothel parlor, cranking up Bessie Smith’s latest hit, “’Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do.” She plays the record over and over, singing along, studying every note and syllable. So, that film was not only my introduction to Billie Holiday, it was also my introduction to Bessie Smith, and an important lesson in how artists pass the cultural torch. Watching Diana Ross’ portrayal of Billie Holiday learning from Bessie Smith, I recognized the same way that I studied every Supremes’ 45 on my old Sears Silvertone. I can imagine Lady GaGa at 11 years old, listening to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” on her Walkman in exactly the same way. Seeing Lady Sings ...


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Women Who Rock spotlight: The Piano That Started it All

Friday, July 8: 11:15 a.m.
Posted by Jim Henke
Lady Gaga's childhood piano.

On the fourth floor of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, there’s an old upright piano. It’s the first artifact you see when you go to the Hall of Fame’s Women Who Rock exhibit. It’s the piano that Lady Gaga played when she was a little girl. Gaga’s father’s parents bought the piano in 1966 for $780. When Gaga was not even a year old, her grandparents gave the piano to her parents. According to Gaga’s mother, “When Stefani started to crawl, she would use the leg of the piano to pull herself up and stand, and in doing so, her fingers would eventually land on the keys.  She would stay there and just keep pressing the keys to hear the sound.  We would then start to hold her up or sit on the bench and let her tinker, you know, things like ‘Chopsticks’ and ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’” Gaga began taking piano lessons when she was four. She wrote her first song when she was five. It was called “Dollar Bills” and was inspired by Pink Floyd’s “Money.” She continued to play this piano until her parents ...


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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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A Night Never to be Forgotten

Thursday, July 28: 11:41 a.m.
Posted by Jim Henke
Bono performs during final stop of the 360° Tour. Photo courtesy of Ivor Karabatkovic

U2 played the next-to-last show on their 360° World Tour on Tuesday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. I was fortunate to have been there to witness this amazing spectacle. The tour kicked off back in 2009, ostensibly in support of the band’s No Line on the Horizon album, and it has grossed more than $700 million. The stage set is unbelievable, with a claw-shaped stage structure that is 168 feet tall, with massive video screens. I’ve never seen a stage set that comes close to this one.

U2 opened the concert with four songs from their 1991 Achtung Baby album: “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” “The Fly,” “Mysterious Ways” and “Until the End of the World.” They then played “I Will Follow” from their 1980 debut album, Boy. “Get on Your Boots” and “Stay” followed. Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, then appeared on the giant video screens to say, “Hello, Pittsburgh!” and introduce the next song, “Beautiful Day.” From that point, the show continued to get better and better, as U2 played hit after hit, including “Elevation,” “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “City of Blinding Lights,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Vertigo,” “Walk On ...


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By the time we got to Woodstock: Help us Preserve Rock History

Thursday, July 28: 3:08 p.m.
Posted by Greg Harris
The Yasgur Farm Sign from the Woodstock Festival.

Rock and roll history includes many keystone moments—Elvis entering Sun Studios, the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Dylan “plugging in” at Newport. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum recently acquired a historic artifact from an event of this stature: a sign from Max Yasgur's farm, the site of the 1969 Woodstock Art and Music Festival!

What I love about this item is that it features the answer to the long-time trivia question “where was Woodstock held?”: not Woodstock, New York, but Bethel! It also pictures the handsome breed of cow that the Yasgurs raised—purebred Guernseys. Signs like these still dot the New England landscape wherever working farms remain.

Woodstock is universally recognized as a pivotal moment in American culture. An unprecedented array of artists took to the stage during the festival including: The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, the Band, Santana, the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sly and the Family Stone, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

A neighbor has kept the sign for the last four decades and a few months ago offered it to the Rock Hall. An anonymous donor agreed to contribute $12,000—half the purchase price—with ...


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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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Happy 20th Anniversary Lollapalooza!

Tuesday, August 9: 5:14 p.m.
Posted by Jim Henke
Young the Giant perform at Lollapalooza 2011.

This past weekend marked the 20th anniversary of Lollapalooza, the music festival that Perry Farrell started back in 1991. Back then, Lollapalooza was a touring festival that went from city to city, playing day-long shows at amphitheaters and other venues across the country -- think Van’s Warped Tour. That version of Lollapalooza ended in 1998, after SFX Entertainment, the promoter, was sold to Clear Channel and then Clear Channel was rolled up into Live Nation. “That wasn’t the atmosphere I started Lollapalooza within,” Farrell said in a recent interview. “My atmosphere was that of individual promoters, people who had their own style, their own ins within the city, interesting locations where they could take us. By 1998, there were no options, so we went dark.” Then, in 2005, Lollapalooza returned. This time, however, it became a three-day festival held in Chicago’s Grant Park. Three days, one city.

For pictures from this year's music festival, click here.

I managed to see a couple of shows in the early days of Lollapalooza, but ever since Perry brought it back as a one-day festival in Chicago, I have gone every year. This year marked the seventh straight year I have ...


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You did it! Woodstock artifact funded by music fans

Monday, August 15: 11 a.m.
Posted by Greg Harris

Today—with help from over 100 donors from around the country—our curators hung the iconic Yasgur’s Farm dairy sign in the museum.  It was installed to coincide with the 42nd Anniversary of the Woodstock Art and Music Festival. See photos of the sign installation here!

Some readers will be familiar with the story.  The remarkable sign was preserved for 40 years by a neighbor and was recently acquired by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  An anonymous donor agreed to contribute $12,000—half the purchase price—with the condition that other music fans provide the remainder through a grassroots online fundraising campaign.  We elected to use website kickstarter.com.  From there the fans took over and contributed the rest of the funds in a few short weeks—THANK YOU.

If you are passing through Cleveland stop in and see the sign.  It hangs in the museum next to the famed awning from CBGB’s, about 50 feet from Jerry’s guitars, Janis’ Porsche, and a few thousand other incredible artifacts documenting the most powerful art form in history – ROCK AND ROLL!
Over 100 individuals supported the campaign including:

Craig A. Adams
Carl Artman
Kimberley Barton
John ...


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