NEW YORK – Sheryl Crow and Olivia Rodrigo kicked off the 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony Friday night and Missy Elliott closed the show more than four hours later with a roof-shaking set, as the hall celebrated a strong representation of women and Black artists.
Chaka Khan, Kate Bush, “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius, The Spinners and DJ Kool Herc were also inducted in a celebration of funk, art-rock, R&B and hip-hop, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Country music was represented by Willie Nelson, punk had Rage Against the Machine, the late George Michael repped pure pop and Link Wray defined guitar heroes.
The ceremony's strong representation of Black and women artists this year came not long after the hall removed Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner from its board of directors. Wenner, who also co-founded the hall, had said that Black and female musicians “didn’t articulate at the level” of the white musicians featured in his new book of interviews. He later apologized.
The new inductees’ talent seemed to show how misguided Wenner’s initial stance was. Elton John's songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, drew cheers when he slyly said he was honored to join the 2023 class with such “profoundly articulate women” and “articulate Black artists.”'
Queen Latifah introduced Missy Elliott, who became the first female hip-hop artist in the rock hall, smashing the boundaries of fashion and style along the way. “Nothing sounded the same after Missy came onto the scene,” Latifah said. “She is avant garde without even trying.”
Elliott then appeared onstage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as if beamed from a spaceship and with smoke machines pumping, a kinetic light show and a massive digital screen working overtime, performed “Get Ur Freak On,” “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” “Work It,” “Pass That Dutch” and “Lose Control.”
“Missy will wear you out!” Queen Latifah joked after the set. “This woman goes hard for the art.” Elliott, in a sparkly bucket hat, had her mother in attendance, the first time she saw her daughter perform live.
Elliott noted hip-hop's anniversary, 50 years after its birth in New York. “To be standing here, it means so much to me,” she said. Of her fellow inductees, she said: “I’m honored just to be in a room with you all.”
The show kicked off when Crow joined by Rodrigo — both in black — traded verses as they both played guitars. Stevie Nicks later joined Crow for a performance of “Strong Enough” and Peter Frampton came out to help sing “Everyday Is a Winding Road.”
“This is a little bit like getting an Oscar for a screenplay you have not finished writing,” Crow said. She thanked her parents for unconditional love “and piano lessons.” She called music a “universal gift.”
Laura Dern inducted Crow, calling her friend “a badass goddess.” Dern said the music business initially had no idea what to do with a Southern female guitar-playing singer-songwriter. But it soon learned. “She mapped out the chapters of our lives,” Dern said.
John joked that the two never had an argument over their 56 years together. “He was disgusted by my behavior, but that’s a given.” John also revealed that the two have just finished a new album.
The two men hugged at the podium and Taupin said he found in John when they met in 1967 someone “to inspire with their imagination and ignite your dreams.” John then sat at the piano to sing “Tiny Dancer.”
H.E.R., Sia and Common accompanied Khan for a medley of her funky hits that included “I Feel For You,” “Ain’t Nobody,” “Sweet Thing” and “I’m Every Woman,” the latter which brought nearly everyone to their feet.
At the podium, Khan graciously called up guitarist Tony Maiden, a member of the band Rufus, which featured Khan in her early career. “Without him and the band, I would not be here today,” Khan said.
Nelson’s part of the ceremony took a fair chunk of the night, with Dave Matthews playing an acoustic “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and the legend joining Chris Stapleton on “Whiskey River,” dueting with Crow for “Crazy” and then all three musicians combining with Nelson for a rollicking “On the Road Again,” which got a standing ovation.
Matthews said Nelson, 90, wrote his first song at 7 in 1940 and has put out over 70 albums. He ran through the legendary musician’s career, including Farm Aid, IRS troubles and Nelson’s preference for pot. “It’s people like Willie Nelson who give me hope for the world,” Matthews said.
When it was his turn, Nelson thanked his wife, Annie, for “keeping me out here, doing what I’m meant to do.” He added: “Thanks for appreciating my music.”
Andrew Ridgeley honored his partner in Wham!, the late George Michael. “His music was key to his compassion,” Ridgeley said. “George is one of the greatest singers of our time.”
Michael attracted an intriguing trio of performers in his honor: Miguel, Carrie Underwood and Adam Levine, who each performed one of his hits — “Careless Whisper,” “Faith” and “One More Try.”
Another posthumous inductee was “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius. A huge sign from his old TV dance show was lowered and the crowd danced happily. Snoop Dogg, Questlove and Lionel Richie in a video called the show a rite of passage and a pioneering show that elevated Black music and culture.
Big Boi inducted Kate Bush, telling the crowd he never knew what to expect from her music and comparing her insistence on producing her own work to being very hip-hop. "Who sounds like Kate Bush?" he asked. “If you were hearing Kate's music for the first time, why wouldn't you believe this was a current artist?”
St. Vincent took the stage to perform a solemn “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God),” the Bush song that bumped up her popularity after the TV show “Stranger Things” featured it. Bush didn't make it to Friday's ceremony.
LL Cool J presented inductee DJ Kool Herc, called the Father of Hip-Hop. “Arguably, no one made a bigger contribution to hip-hop culture than DJ Kool Herc,” LL Cool J said and then turned to the older artist: “You lit the fire and it’s still blazing.” A visibly moved Herc was unable to speak for a few moments before thanking his parents, James Brown, Marcus Garvey and Harry Belafonte, among others.
The Spinners, who became a hit-making machine with four No. 1 R&B hits in less than 18 months, were honored by a velvet-jacket-and-fedora-clad New Edition, who sang “I’ll Be Around,” “The Rubberband Man” and “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love.” John Edwards and Henry Fambrough represented the Philadelphia five-member group.
Also entering the hall as the class of 2023 were Rage Against the Machine and the late guitarist Link Wray. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin honored Wray with a virtuoso performance of the late guitar god’s seminal “Rumble” with a double-necked guitar. The stage was later filled with singers including John, Crow and Brittany Howard belting out the Band's song “The Weight,” in honor of the late Robbie Robertson.
Ice-T presented activist punk-rockers Rage Against the Machine — “rock rocks the boat,” he said — and guitarist Tom Morello urged the crowd to fight for a world “without compromise or apologies.”
Artists must have released their first commercial recording at least 25 years before they’re eligible for induction. Nominees were voted on by more than 1,000 artists, historians and music industry professionals.
ABC will air a special featuring performance highlights and standout moments on Jan. 1.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits