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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Fever"

Wednesday, September 17: 5 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall

The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, revered Little Willie John, having opened shows for John early on and later recorded an entire album of his tunes, the 1968 tribute Thinking About Little Willie John and a Few Nice Things. Brown was just but one of many artists of the day who were influenced by John's gospel-charged R&B sound. The likes of Hall of Fame Inductees Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Al Green all noted a musical debt to the man behind "Fever," and hits including "Sleep," "Talk To Me, Talk To Me" and "Leave My Kitten Alone" – the latter an early Beatles fave.

Spending his formative years raised in Detroit, Michigan, Little Willie John's stature belied his powerful voice. Signed to Syd Nathan's Cincinnati-based King Records in 1955, John cut the haunting, sultry "Fever" in 1956 at the tender age of 18. His smooth style presaged soul music. His delivery was passionate and dramatic, which paired with his melding of styles proved the perfect foil to such evocative lyricism.


Sadly, this polished, passionate artist suffered a sad fate: convicted of manslaughter in a post-gig fracas and sentenced to prison in 1966, he died under disputed circumstances ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Dance to the Music" and "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin"

Thursday, June 19: 3:35 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Sly and the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music" is a Song That Shaped Rock and Roll.

Preaching a gospel of tolerance set against a heady genre-blending groove, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Sly and the Family Stone were the integrated multi-gender Pied Pipers of the Woodstock generation. The group's message – and inimitable synthesizing of rock, soul, R&B, funk and psychedelia into a danceable music – helped bring diverse audiences together, with their greatest triumph coming at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. During their unforgettable nighttime set, leader Sly Stone initiated a fevered call-and-response with the audience of 400,000–plus during an electrifying version of “I Want to Take You Higher.” Voters around the world ranked that moment as one of the greatest festival moments of all time, and it is included in the Rock Hall's feature exhibit, Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience.

The group connected with the rising counterculture by means of songs that addressed issues of personal pride and liberation in the context of driving, insistent and sunny-tempered music that fused rock and soul, creating a template for 70s funk. As proof that they were reaching a rainbow coalition among the young, Sly and the Family Stone dominated the late 60s charts with such essential singles as “Dance to ...


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Staples of American Music: Mavis Staples and "I'll Take You There"

Tuesday, April 29: 1 p.m.
Posted by Greg Kot
Author Greg Kot will present and do a short reading from his most recent book, I’ll Take You There.

The song was there amid the highs and lows of the top 40, tucked among "Kung Fu Fighting," "Me and Mrs. Jones," "Maggie May," and countless other 70s one-offs, novelties and classics. The Staple Singers’ "I’ll Take You There" was in the air, like oxygen. Years after I first heard it in my parents’ kitchen on a transistor radio, it always seemed to be part of my life – I would find myself humming the bass line while waiting for an elevator or muttering "Ain’t no smiling faces" as I walked down a downtown Chicago street at rush hour. A few decades later, after hearing the song dozens if not hundreds of times, it dawned on me: There are only about five lines of verse in the entire song, spanning more than 4 minutes. The rest is just a magic act between the band (the Muscle Shoals rhythm section) and Mavis Staples, backed by her family.

In interviewing the people in the studio when "I’ll Take You There" was recorded, they all still sound in awe of what happened that day.

"The ‘I’ll Take You There’ session rates as high as any we ever did," guitarist Jimmie ...


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Etta James Sings "At Last" and Hits the Charts

Friday, January 24: 8 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Etta James

At the end of the 1960s, traditional R&B was moving in different directions: toward Motown and its pop-ready "Sound of Young America," and the grittier Southern soul of Stax/Volt and Fame Recording Studio. Etta James sided with the latter. Born January 25, 1938, as Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles, California, she had moved from a gospel choir to a girl trio to the Johnny Otis Revue by the time she had her first R&B hit at 17. “I might have been a little church girl singing gospel, but I loved all the music – soaked it up like a sponge," said James. "I remember Charles Brown, who killed me with 'Drifting Blues.' I’d hear that good time music floating out onto the street, whether it was some smooth blues like T-Bone Walker or sophisticated jazz….[I’d] poke my head into a joint, amazed by the men in their stingy-brim hats and them gators on their feet, chicks poured into skintight dresses, laughing and flirting and carrying on.” 

In the spring of 1961, “At Last” became a Number Two R&B hit and remains ...


continue Categories: Black History Month, Inductee, History of Rock and Roll, History of the Blues, Hall of Fame, Today in Rock, Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

How James Brown Saved Boston in 1968

Friday, January 17: 10 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
James Brown in 1968

In a decade marred by tumult, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr had emerged as the charismatic voice of the civil rights movement, advancing the cause with a resonant message of nonviolence and peaceful civil disobedience. He was the loudspeaker for thousands crying out, the channel through which the civil rights movement found unity. With King's assassination on April 4, 1968, the world lost among its most fearless leaders.

News of King's assassination sent shockwaves across the country and people took to the streets in frustration. As day broke in Boston on Friday, April 5, government officials nervously anticipated another night of unrest, yet an unlikely keeper of the peace came forward and helped unite a community: James Brown

Variously dubbed "the Godfather of Soul," "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business" and "Mr. Dynamite" among other monikers, Brown had been scheduled to perform in the city's center, at the Boston Garden. Amid great civil strife, Mayor Kevin White faced a quandary: aggravate a tense situation by canceling the event for overtly racial fears or dismiss concerns expressed by law enforcement. His decision came ...


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50 Years Later: Mahalia Jackson and the Voices of the March on Washington

Wednesday, August 28: 10:39 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Mahalia Jackson was among the singers at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when more than a quarter million people converged in the then largest demonstration in the United States capital. It was a triumph of unity and a moment – like many revolutionary episodes – that seized on the power of song to help make sense of its gravitas. The diverse cast of voices on August 28, 1963 included Marian Anderson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul and Mary. However, it was gospel legend Mahalia Jackson who, at the request of Martin Luther King Jr., helped set the stage for among the world's greatest recordings: the "I Have a Dream" speech. 

"If [Martin Luther] King gave the movement a vision, Mahalia Jackson gave it a voice," wrote history and culture scholar Craig Werner in A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America.

The inimitable voice of 1997 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Mahalia Jackson resonated far and wide, her bracing soprano and interpretation of gospel making her a familiar name among black and white audiences. She found stardom without making secular songs, becoming the first gospel artist to sing at Carnegie Hall in ...


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In the Museum: Aretha Franklin

Monday, March 25: 6 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Aretha Franklin on the cover of Time Magazine in 1968, on exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Aretha Franklin was only 24 years old when she signed with Atlantic Records in November 1966, but she had already been making records for much of her life, first as a child gospel singer, then as a pop singer of only modest success. 

Born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, Aretha Franklin was raised in Detroit. Her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, was the charismatic pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church, which he turned into a large and thriving institution. From an early age, Aretha sang at her father’s behest during services at New Bethel. Her first recordings turned up on an album called Spirituals, recorded at the church when she was only 14. Although she was firmly rooted in gospel, Franklin also drew from such blues and jazz legends as Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn as she developed her singing style. On the male side, she was inspired by Ray Charles, Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke (both with and without the Soul Stirrers). From the emerging world of youthful doo-wop groups and early soul, Aretha enjoyed the likes of LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, Little Willie John, the Falcons (featuring Wilson Pickett) and Frankie Lymon ...


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Interview with 2009 Hall of Fame Inductee Bobby Womack

Monday, March 4: 2 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Bobby Womack being interviewed at the Rock Hall, just weeks before his 69th birthday.

Born on March 4, 1944, Cleveland-native Bobby Womack grew into a soul and gospel legend whose contributions as a songwriter, singer and guitarist have kept him and his music relevant for decades. 

The son of a steelworker, Womack and his siblings got their start as a gospel group. On tour with the Soul Stirrers, the Womack brothers – Bobby, Cecil, Curtis, Harris and Friendly Jr. – were introduced to the Stirrer's lead singer, Sam Cooke. With a move from gospel to secular soul, Cooke asked the Womack brothers to join him in California, and 16-year-old Bobby Womack made the trip. 

Billed as the Valentinos, Bobby and his brothers cut two R&B classics: “Looking for a Love” (later covered by the J. Geils Band) and “It’s All Over Now.” The Rolling Stones’ cover of the latter song beat the Valentinos’ own version onto the charts, giving the Stones their second Top 40 hit in the States and first Number One hit in the U.K.

In the years following his work with Cooke, Womack would write songs recorded by Wilson Pickett (“I’m a Midnight Mover”), George Benson (“Breezin’”), Janis Joplin (“Trust Me”) and others. Pickett alone recorded 17 ...


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