Earlier this year, after the nominations of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2023 were announced, Courtney Love wrote an op-ed for The Guardian titled, “Why are women so marginalised by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?” Currently, female artists make up just over 8% of the hall of fame and only eight women sit on the 28-person nominating board. “If so few women are being inducted into the Rock Hall, then the nominating committee is broken,” wrote Love. “If so few Black artists, so few women of colour, are being inducted, then the voting process needs to be overhauled.”
But as Love also noted, this year alone more women were nominated than at any time in the organization’s 40-year history. Change is coming, but slowly and somewhat begrudgingly at that. And it’s leaving some people in the past, for better or worse.
In September, Jann Wenner—the cofounder and former editor of Rolling Stone who helped establish the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1983, which he ruled over for the next 40 years—gave an interview in The New York Times. The discussion with Times staffer David Marchese was meant in support of his book, The Masters, a collection of interviews with “rock philosophers” Bob Dylan, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, and Pete Townshend. When asked why the anthology did not feature any women, Wenner said in part that “none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.” When asked why the book did not have any conversations with Black artists, Wenner said that “they just didn’t articulate at that level.”
Following publication of the interview, Wenner was immediately removed from the Hall’s board of directors. It was a quick culmination for an institution that has otherwise moved at a glacial pace to evolve its culture. In January, the Hall had updated its mission statement to become more diverse and explicitly gender- and genre-inclusive. This had come after years of criticisms such as Love’s and some embarrassing episodes. Dolly Parton politely declined her nomination last year, before eventually embracing it (her upcoming album, Rockstar, is due out November 17). “Born from the collision of rhythm & blues, country and gospel, rock & roll is a spirit that is inclusive and ever-changing,” the statement reads. “The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame celebrates the sound of youth culture and honors the artists whose music connects us all.”
On Friday night, the induction ceremony, which took place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn (and was livestreamed on Disney+) welcomed a variety of artists across gender, race, and genre, both living and dead: Sheryl Crow, DJ Kool Herc, Chaka Khan, George Michael, the Spinners, Kate Bush, Al Kooper, Willie Nelson, Link Wray, Bernie Taupin, Rage Against the Machine, Missy Elliott, and Don Cornelius. It was the body’s first induction ceremony to be held since Wenner’s train wreck interview and public dismissal, and anticipation for what the night might hold (and the future of the institution beyond that) was high. Before the show began, John Sykes, who took over from Wenner as chairman in 2020, gave remarks about the hall of fame, calling it “music’s highest honor,” and describing rock and roll not as a genre but as an attitude—the common thread amongst the night’s honorees.