How To Become a Legend of Rock

On getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

On Monday, 15 rock ’n’ roll musicians (including Bono, Chrissie Hynde, and Percy Sledge) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. An edited, taped version of the event at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City will air this Saturday on VH1. How does a rocker get selected for the Hall?

First, he (or she) gets nominated by a committee, and then gets voted in by an international panel of more than 700 “rock experts.” Who are these people? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Web site says that the committee is composed of “rock and roll historians,” but neither foundation officials nor former committee members would answer questions about how one becomes an official rock expert or historian. Explainer contacted several prominent academics who study the history of rock ’n’ roll, none of whom had been invited to serve on the committee.


The committee does include industry executives (among them Jimmy Iovine of Interscope and Clive Davis of RCA Records), critics, members of the Hall of Fame Museum staff, and a number of previous inductees into the Hall of Fame. The rock experts are drawn from a similar pool, and include the rest of the inductees. The performers who receive the most votes get into the Hall, provided that more than half of the experts voted for them. For a performer to be eligible, 25 years must have elapsed since the release of his or her first record.

Ahmet Ertegun, the founding chairman of Atlantic Records, created the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation in 1983, along with Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, and other big names in the music industry. They inducted the first musicians at an exclusive Waldorf Astoria ceremony three years later. (Ertegun was himself inducted the next year; Wenner didn’t make it until 2004.)

While the foundation’s glitzy events take place in New York, the actual Hall of Fame Museum resides in Cleveland. Why Cleveland? A local disc jockey (and now inductee), Alan Freed, is said to have popularized the phrase “rock ’n’ roll” and promoted the first rock concert in 1952. The state of Ohio also ponied up $4 million to help pay for the museum, which was designed by I. M. Pei and opened to the public in 1995.

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Explainer thanks John Soeder of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.