By Jim Thompson
When planning that once-in-a-lifetime vacation, Cleveland, Ohio is probably not the first place that comes to mind. After all, Cleveland!?! Sounds, like quiet nights and soft guitars, right?
Wrong. Cleveland is a rockin’ place that is home to the very definition of Rock: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which has attracted the biggest names in the music industry along with more than 10 million visitors since it opened in 1995.
From Janis Joplin’s psychedelic Porsche to Michael Jackson’s sparkly glove and dozens and dozens of iconic instruments, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum tracks the evolution of this musical and cultural phenomenon through more than 50 exhibits.
So, why Cleveland and not the centers of power and money like New York, San Francisco or the birthplace of the Blues, New Orleans? Actually, one could argue that rock ‘n roll had its start – or at least its christening – right here in quiet Cleveland.
It all started more than 25 years ago, when music industry leaders established the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation with the goal of celebrating the music and musicians that have changed music and, ultimately, to build a museum dedicated to this unique art form. The original plan was to purchase a brownstone in New York City that would contain the Hall of Fame, an archive, a library and the museum.
Cleveland’s Rock ‘n Roll Roots
When word got out that rock ‘n roll was to have a real home, several other high profile music cities, including New Orleans, San Francisco, Memphis, Chicago and Philadelphia jumped in and made offers.
Actually, the first event to induct legends into the Hall of Fame was held before there was official site at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in January of 1986. Inductees included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. The first non-performers to be honored were producer Sam Phillips (Sun Records which was the first label to feature a young Elvis Presley) and disc jockey Alan Freed.
Meanwhile, the city of Cleveland started a lobbying campaign touting its many music milestones – most notably – Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed who some say coined the phrase “rock ‘n roll” or – at the very least – made the term popular on his radio show back in the 1950s. Freed also organized the country’s very first official rock ‘n roll concert, held right in Cleveland. In what may have been a foreshadowing of the way the rock crowd rolls, the event was shut down for overcrowding and rioting.
It soon became clear that Cleveland was the place for the museum and organizers knew that they needed something special as the permanent home for rock ‘n roll’s history. World-renowned architect I.M. Pei, who designed the glass and steel pyramid for the Musee de Luvre in Paris, and was the chief architect for the John Kennedy Library in Massachusetts, was chosen to design the Museum. Confessing, “I don’t know a thing about rock ‘n roll,” Pei admitted he had a lot to learn before he could design a structure that captures the essence of this music.
“We heard a lot of music, and I finally got it: rock ‘n roll is about energy,” said Pei. That energy is reflected in his design that features a glass and steel pyramid entrance flowing into the solid circular and rectangular forms of the complex.
In September, 1995, after 12 years in the making, opening celebrations began with a parade through the streets of Cleveland and a benefit concert that included rock ‘n roll luminaries Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, the Pretenders, John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash.
Something for Every Musical Taste
Over the years, the many exhibits include something for anyone – and everyone – who loves music, whether it be classic rock ‘n roll, hip hop or hard rock.
The 150,000-square-foot Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum features seven floors and five theaters. Throughout the facility are permanent collections and changing collections that span rock ‘n roll’s history from its roots to modern-day musicians.
Permanent exhibits include “The Roots of Rock ‘n Roll,” “Cities and Sounds,” “Cleveland Rocks,” “The Music of the Midwest,” and the “Hall of Fame Inductee Gallery.” Special exhibits focus on individual performers or bands, or themes such as women in rock or Woodstock.
Included in the exhibits are original stage costumes, instruments, personal correspondence and notes, stage props, photographs, films and other items. In early 2012, a major renovation added new exhibit spaces, state-of-the-art interactive technology and hundreds of new artifacts.
“The Rock Hall’s extensive redesign includes the most comprehensive, artifact-driven Beatles exhibit in the world,” said Jim Henke, the Museum’s Vice President of Exhibitions. The exhibit (with nearly 70 artifacts) features George Harrison’s striped suit from the 1966 US tour, Ringo Starr’s 1969 birthday card to John Lennon and John Lennon’s black wool coat worn in Help!
The “Roots of Rock ‘n Roll” Exhibit highlights Gospel, Blues, Country/Folk/Bluegrass and R&B with artifacts from such greats as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson, Big Joe Turner, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles.
Yea. It may be Cleveland, but it’s where rock ‘n roll rocks!
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with extended hours until 9 p.m. Wednesday. It is closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Tickets are: $22.00 for adults, $17.00 for seniors & military, $13 for children 9 through 12 (free under 8). A 6% tax is added to the price of each ticket.
Rock and roll Hall of Fame and Museum
1100 Rock and Roll Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44114
NOTE: Media tours and trips to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are available to qualified WTMG members. For details on arranging a visit, please contact WTMG President, Jim Thompson via email at: email@example.com