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  • Courtney E. Smith

How to Have an All-Women Induction to the RHOF in 2021

At the 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Rame induction ceremony, no one mentioned the need to induct more women. That’s the first time, to my knowledge, since 2016 when a piece I wrote for Lenny Letter spiraled around the internet and set off notorious Rock Hall hater Steve Miller, who took care to thank all the women who helped him (a rarity, frankly, and called the institution out on stage for excluding women artists, among other things.


Maybe it didn’t come up this year because the only woman inducted, Whitney Houston, is deceased. The show airing while we were all in the grip of a tumultuous election certainly had something to do with overlooking a mention of inclusivity. It was almost certainly overlooked in part because all the work and studies about inclusion prompted by #MeToo, three years later, have become background noise. There were no big pieces in the press, other than an amazing founding mothers of guitar piece by She Shreds, which feels like a missed opportunity to talk more granularly about the need to induce more Black women whose unacknowledged work built rock and roll and the hall of fame that wrought.


To me, it feels like a huge letdown after four straight years of artists talking about the poor representation for women in the Rock Hall. Seven percent is pathetic. Refresh yourself on Stevie Nicks making her acceptance speech as the first woman inducted twice, after the honor has been granted to 22 men — most of whom, I’ll wager you can’t name. I’ll give you a hint: four of them are Beatles, and if anyone wants to go toe to toe with me on if Ringo Starr or Stevie have had more impactful solo careers, I look forward to demolishing you.



The Rock Hall induction ceremony is permanently moving to the fall, and the 2021 nominees won’t be announced until the spring of next year. John Sykes, the iHeartMedia exec/debt holder and former founder of MTV, has stepped in as chairman after founder and longtime puppetmaster Jann Wenner stepped down. John Landau, longtime manager of Bruce Springsteen and a 2020 inductee himself, dismissed an undisclosed number of members of the nominating committee (rumored to be as many as 16 of the 42 members), which reportedly included much of the early rock and R&B influencers subcommittee, according to Billboard. If you were hoping for Ella Fitzgerald to finally get her nomination, the committee is going another way (the article notes that Questlove, Seymour Stein, and Q-Prime’s Cliff Bernstein — which is very what??? — are still on board to steer that subcommittee).


So, the nominating body's focus is on artists who became eligible in the '80s and '90s. For the music press, leading into the spring nominations, it's time to start putting pressure on to induct more women, yet again. Given all that, let's talk about a big idea: nominate, and then induct, a class of all women. That will only be seven groups (but mostly solo artists because all- or even mostly-women groups are rare) and nowhere near evening up the gender imbalance in the Rock Hall. But it would be a hell of a publicity move and could generate massive ratings.


Here’s who I’d like to see from a list of women that should be titled: Are You Fucking Kidding Me, She/They Haven’t Been Inducted or Even Nominated Yet???


The Go-Go’s



If you missed the Showtime doc on them, it’s one big play for a Rock Hall nomination as well as an excellent rock doc. Watching it, I was struck by how many times they, primarily songwriter Charlotte Caffey, referred to themselves after their punk years as a pop band. The only reason the Go-Go’s songs are pop is that they were marketed to pop radio (KROQ played the hell out of the music by the hometown girls). The Go-Go’s have all the hallmarks of rock music: they play guitars, they toured with rock bands, they wrote it all themselves, they played it all themselves. It’s the best case for the assertion that genres and the rules that define them are made up in recent history. They were the first all-woman band to have a debut album go to No. 1, knocking The Police, who were not only the biggest band in the world at the time but the band they were opening for, out of the slot.


The Go-Go’s also inspired so many women in Gen X to pick up an instrument, which in turn inspired a slew of Millennials and Gen Z. Seeing Gina Shock do it made me realize I could play drums if I wanted to, and it was stupid if anyone told me I couldn’t. Based solely on the cultural impact on me and Kathleen Hanna, it’s insulting that they haven’t so much as been nominated previously.


Ella Fitzgerald



Yeah, the Queen of Jazz and First Lady of Song isn’t in the Rock Hall. You read that correctly. She has 114 Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and has recorded definitive versions of numerous songs from the Great American Songbook, but no one has gotten around to so much as nominating her. Coooooool.


Dolly Parton



It’s been the year of Parton for what feels like the past five years. She’s ascended to American Treasure status, and every time she makes a move, ten trend pieces about how we all love Dolly spring up. She’s one of the most prolific and successful songwriters in history and a personality who manages to make everyone feel good — something we’ll all still need a healthy dose of in 2021. Plus, she could be the first woman from country music to be inducted (a few men, setting precedent as always, already have been). This is a no-brainer move.


Tina Turner and Carole King



I’m putting these two together because, outside of their exceptional talent, I want to see them inducted for the same reason: they are both already in with their husbands but not as solo artists, even though their solo careers have massively eclipsed their early work. It’s an especially egregious slight for Turner, who is inducted with her abusive ex. Stevie Nicks said she wanted to open the door for the next 22 women, so let’s start here.



Mariah Carey



If you want ratings, put Mariah and Dolly on the same show. The entire world will tune in. Carey gets a jump the line pass in my book for her years of singing in unreal registers that mere mortals can’t reach, her commitment to writing hits most people couldn’t dream of, and for owning Christmas. You try to write a modern, new Christmas song and see if it becomes a hit. It won’t. That’s a magic even the best songwriters will never access. Plus, there’s the Mariah of it all — the diva, the voice, the glamour. That’s what the Rock Hall loved about Bowie, Bolan, Elton, Roxy Music. Why not get that same energy up for a Black woman who matches all their talent?


There are loads more women whose lack of inductions and nominations that blow my mind; Mary J. Blige, Barbara Streisand, Buffy St. Marie, Björk, Alanis Morrissette, Carly Simon, Cyndi Lauper, Loretta Lynn, and Hole feel like some of the most pressing to be acknowledged ASAP. Among all those names, take your pick from them, the Rock Hall could have a blockbuster show.


Finally: it’s past time and she’s had so many nominations. Induct Chaka Khan already. Props to the nominating committee, which keep putting her and Rufus up year after year. Boos to the voting body, which keeps rejecting the nomination.

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