Music's glitterati is all set to fete a new class of legends entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, among them Missy Elliott and the late George Michael. Rock experimentalist Kate Bush, agitators Rage Against the Machine, country icon Willie Nelson, heartland rocker Sheryl Crow, and R&B group The Spinners will round out the 2023 class of inductees.
Chaka Khan, Al Kooper and Bernie Taupin will receive the Hall's musical excellence awards. DJ Kool Herc and Link Wray meanwhile will be inducted as "influences" and the late creator of "Soul Train," Don Cornelius, will receive a non-performer honor.
The Cleveland-based Hall of Fame—which surveyed more than 1,000 musicians, historians and industry members to choose the entrants—will honor the acts in a star-studded gala concert at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.
For some time now the institution has defined "rock" less in terms of genre than of spirit, with a number of rap, pop, R&B and country stars included.
Hall of Fame Chairman John Sykes had previously emphasised that this year's crop of musicians "reflects the diverse artists and sounds that define Rock & Roll"—and also noted it coincides with a milestone year that includes the 50th anniversary of the hip-hop genre and country icon Nelson's 90th birthday.
Elliott will become the first woman in hip-hop to enter the music pantheon. The Lose Control and Get Ur Freak On rapper made the cut in her first year of eligibility.
Artists can be inducted 25 years after their first commercial music release. Fellow rap star Queen Latifah will induct Elliott, who called the honour "a blessing" in an interview with ABC's Good Morning America show.
It's particularly poignant given hip-hop's milestone anniversary, Elliott said: "No matter what people say, the hip-hop world is something special and unique."
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a music industry pillar that, much like the Recording Academy that runs the Grammys, has in recent years worked to revamp its image—long criticized as too masculine and too white.
The likes of Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Madonna are members— but women represent fewer than 100 of the nearly 1,000 Hall inductees since 1986.
The Hall of Fame's image problem resurfaced earlier this year, when Jann Wenner—one of the Hall's board members who helped start the institution— made comments deemed disparaging towards women and people of colour, which were published in the New York Times during an interview about his book The Masters.
The 77-year-old Wenner, who cofounded Rolling Stone magazine in 1967, featured seven white men including Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen in his book.
Queried about the absence of women and people of colour, Wenner said none could "articulate" on the level of “philosophers of rock.” The comments were widely eviscerated as racist and sexist, and Wenner was swiftly axed from the Hall's board of directors.
Up until 2020 Wenner had served as the Rock Hall foundation's chairman, a post Sykes then took over. In a recent interview Sykes emphasised efforts to "update the general voting body" to "reflect the artists that are eligible" for the Hall.
"I want to make sure the voting body is young and diverse enough to really make the most educated decisions about who should be inducted," he told the New York Times. Sykes underscored the women inducted in recent years, including Bush, Elliott and Crow this year: "We have to do better, but we're making progress."
As for the ever-shifting definition of rock, the chairman interpreted it as "what's moving youth culture."