The 2023 class of inductees is among the most varied in the hall’s history, with women and people of color outnumbering white men, whose work the group has long been criticized for overvaluing. Musically, too, the new class — set to be welcomed Nov. 3 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. — represents a broad array of styles and genres, including country, hip-hop, rap-rock, R&B, art pop, folk-rock, dance music and blue-eyed soul.
In an interview, the Rock Hall’s chairman, John Sykes, said that “rock ’n’ roll has never been one definitive sound but rather an attitude or a spirit” and that this year’s honorees show “how diverse the definition of rock ’n’ roll has become.”
He added that in 2018, women accounted for 15% of the hall’s inductees to that point. (Author and historian Evelyn McDonnell has put the figure lower, at less than 8%.) Since 2019, according to Sykes, a quarter of those inducted have been women.
“That’s still not enough,” Sykes told The Times, “but I’m seeing us make progress to recognize the incredible women who’ve contributed to the growth and impact of rock ’n’ roll.”
Several of the new members — voted in by a group of about 1,200 musicians, executives, historians and journalists — are joining the hall after being nominated for the first time. (An act becomes eligible for induction 25 years after the release of its first commercial recording.) First-time balloters include Crow, the hitmaker who has moved easily between rock, pop and country; Michael, the superstar singer and queer icon who died in 2016; and Nelson, the American legend who just celebrated his 90th birthday with an all-star, two-night blowout at the Hollywood Bowl. Elliott, the trendsetting rapper and producer, was voted in in her first year of eligibility, and is the first female hip-hop artist to be inducted into the hall.
Bush’s induction comes after the reclusive pop experimentalist scored a global streaming smash last year with her 1985 single “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God),” which was prominently featured in Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” Like Bush, the Spinners, a crucial part of both the Detroit and Philadelphia soul scenes, and Rage Against the Machine, which reunited for a tour last year (then cut it short after frontman Zack de la Rocha injured his leg), had been nominated previously without getting in.
Nominated acts that didn’t make the cut for the 2023 class include Iron Maiden, the combination of Joy Division and New Order, Cyndi Lauper, Soundgarden, A Tribe Called Quest, the White Stripes and the late Warren Zevon; Zevon’s cause was publicly rallied by high-profile fans including Billy Joel and David Letterman.
“He did well in the voting,” Sykes said of Zevon, whose songs about the lovers and losers of Los Angeles led Joel to say he “exemplified the soul of L.A. — if there is one.” Added Sykes: “I imagine he’s gonna get in eventually, because there was great momentum for him this year and a lot of excitement in the committee.”
Chaka Khan, the dexterous funk and soul singer who began her career as the lead singer of Rufus, won’t be inducted as a performer but will receive the hall’s Musical Excellence Award, which is decided by a committee of insiders (as opposed to the group’s voting body). The hall says the award is given to “artists, musicians, songwriters and producers whose originality and influence creating music have had a dramatic impact on music.”
Producer and session musician Al Kooper, who played the indelible organ part on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” will also receive the Musical Excellence Award, as will Elton John’s longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin. The Musical Influence Award — which the hall says honors “artists whose music and performance style have directly influenced, inspired and evolved rock & roll and music impacting youth culture” — will be given to the pioneering garage-rock guitarist Link Wray and DJ Kool Herc, who 50 years ago spun records at the Bronx block party widely acknowledged as the birthplace of hip-hop.
The late “Soul Train” impresario Don Cornelius will receive the Ahmet Ertegun Award, a commendation for industry executives named after the late Atlantic Records co-founder who started the Rock Hall with Rolling Stone magazine’s Jann Wenner in the mid-1980s. (Sykes — whose “day job,” as he calls it, is president of entertainment enterprises at the radio conglomerate iHeartMedia — took over from Wenner as chairman in 2020.)
Asked whether the hall has considered renaming the award in light of sexual assault allegations recently made against Ertegun, Sykes said, “It hasn’t come up in conversation.”
For years, the Rock Hall’s induction ceremony has been taped and later shown in edited form on HBO — including in 2022, when the inductees included Dolly Parton, Eminem, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Lionel Richie, Carly Simon and the husband-wife duo of Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo. A spokesperson said the organization wasn’t ready to announce broadcast details for November’s event.
Does Sykes think that Bush, who has rarely performed live over the past half-century, might show up to accept the Rock Hall’s honor — and perhaps even sing?
“From what we’ve heard, she’s very excited about being selected,” he said. “So we’re hoping that she’s gonna be there.”