It was cosmic justice that two black women — Chaka Khan and Missy Elliott — owned the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Friday night.
After longtime Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner was ousted from the hall’s board of directors in September — immediately after telling the Recent York Times that girls and folks of color weren’t “articulate” enough to be included in his “The Masters” book of artist interviews — it was a sure sign that times have finally modified at an establishment ruled by white men since its inception in 1983.
Forty years after Wenner helped found the organization — he also served as chairman from 2006 until 2019 — it was a sweet thing when Khan rocked Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with the night’s first real highlight.
Watching the 70-year-old Queen of Funk roar from “I Feel for You” to “I’m Every Woman” — with assists from Common, H.E.R. and Sia — it was hard to assume how she had not been inducted an extended time ago, after seven previous nominations within the Performer Category (4 with Rufus, three as a solo artist). Her Musical Excellence Award — presented by R&B star Jazmine Sullivan — finally gave Khan some overdue flowers 50 years after she made her debut.
Elliott, however, got inducted on her first nomination, becoming the primary female hip-hop artist to be enshrined within the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
And fittingly, it was Queen Latifah who did the honors — she’s certainly one of the feminine rappers who inspired Elliott.
The 52-year-old MC closed the festivities with a show-stopping performance, working it to hits akin to “Get Ur Freak On,” “One Minute Man,” “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and “Lose Control.”
One other female inductee, Sheryl Crow, got the ceremony (which is now streaming on Disney+) off to a robust start with the feel-good vibes of “If It Makes You Comfortable.”
The 61-year-old diva was later joined by Stevie Nicks on “Strong Enough” after which her “hero” Peter Frampton on “On a regular basis Is a Winding Road.”
During her lengthy induction speech, she gave props to Willie Nelson, the 90-year-old country legend who joined Crow in the category of 2023.
While purists may argue that he’s not “rock” enough, that old-school way of considering has clearly gotten, well, old.
In truth, the one “real” rock band to be inducted this 12 months — Rage Against the Machine — didn’t even perform. And to make matters worse, only guitarist Tom Morello even bothered to indicate up.
“Running Up That Hill” chanteuse Kate Bush also was a disappointing no-show, leaving St. Vincent as her stand-in.
But when you may’t show as much as your personal rock-hall induction, it’s a slap within the face to have to take a seat through lengthy video tributes which are cutting into the performance time of the artists who are literally in attendance — and helping to make the show over 4 hours long.
And let’s not take as a right simply being alive to receive such a prestigious honor. In recent times, there have been posthumous inductees akin to Tupac Shakur, Whitney Houston and the Notorious B.I.G.
That sad trend continued this 12 months with George Michael, but not less than we had certainly one of the night’s most touching moments when the singer’s former Wham! mate Andrew Ridgeley inducted him in a rare appearance.
But Michael deserved a greater musical tribute than he got from Miguel (“Careless Whisper”), Adam Levine (“Faith”) and, most bizarrely, Carrie Underwood (“One More Try”). And it was a missed opportunity to have a queer artist salute the late gay icon.
Actually, no person but Elton John could have inducted his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, who received the Musical Excellence Award. And in his speech before John performed their 1971 classic “Tiny Dancer,” Taupin, 73, took pointed aim at Wenner.
“I’m honored to be in the category of 2023 alongside a bunch of such profoundly ‘articulate’ women and outstanding ‘articulate’ black artists, together with all the other music masters here tonight.”
Well played, Bernie. Well played.