(May 5, 2023). At long last, R&B/soul singing icon Chaka Khan is (deservedly) getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
After seven prior failed nominations to the esteemed musical institution—three as a solo artist and four with her former band Rufus—Khan was finally selected by a small committee of seven music experts to be allowed entry under the category of “Musical Excellence Award.”
That’s the same side-door category in which other music legends, like Ringo Starr and Nile Rodgers, were inducted in recent years.
Why “Musical Excellence”?
Because general RRHOF voters—which number around 1200–could never generate enough votes to get those three people (who’d been nominated more than 20 times between them previously) into the main, more prestigious category, called “Performers.”
And what the smaller voting board of seven experts finally concluded was, as the 1200-member voting body got younger and younger—by design to keep up with the times—older artists like Khan, Rodgers and Starr were being passed up by newer performers, like The Foo Fighters, Jay-Z, and, this year, Missy Elliott, Rage Against the Machine, and Sheryl Crow.
What the “Musical Excellence” vs. “Performers” categories really demonstrates is a disconnect between the people who do the nominating and the 1200 voters who decide the nominees’ fates, or the general ballot. It’s a gap that the seven experts have to decide each year whether or not they’re gonna close.
The “Musical Excellence” category is considered a non-competitive one, it’s the experts way of saying, “okay, enough already. If these people have been getting nominated five, six or seven times in the past, then they must deserve to get in, regardless of what the general ballot decides. So just let ‘em in.”
Which begs the question, why even have a 1200-member body, or why parse the categories into two groups that essentially mean the same thing, especially if you’re going to let the repeat-nominated folks in anyway (not that they don’t deserve entry, they do—especially in the above-mentioned cases)?
Chaka Khan and/or her 1970s band Rufus were nominated eight times. Nile Rodgers’ disco/funk/R&B group Chic was nominated eleven times—more than any other act before or since. Rodgers was finally admitted in the Musical Excellence Category in 2017.
What Khan’s and Rodgers’ inductions sadly also mean is that their groups—Rufus and Chic, respectively—will never get into the Hall of Fame (despite their many nominations as collective entities). No such concern ever existed for Starr’s former band, by the way.
British art-pop singer Kate Bush and country legend Willie Nelson escaped similar fates this year when they were voted in by the general body—no doubt owing to their recent reentries into pop culture awareness due to major high-profile events.
Bush, who hadn’t been a major force in music—at least not in America—since the 1980s, recently reentered our consciousness when her classic “Running Up That Hill” got a prominent sync on the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things,” which turned the song from a 1985 low-charting cult classic to one of the biggest worldwide hits of 2022 (it reached No. 3 here in America and spent months on the Billboard chart).
And Nelson, who is riding the wave of country music’s recent acceptance by the RRHOF as a part of the broader rock and roll story (with Dolly Parton’s high profile induction last year), just celebrated his 90th birthday, a huge milestone in itself—one that likely stoked a few RRHOF general votes in his favor.
Rather than wait for similar high visibility events—or worse, her passing—to steer votes in Khan’s direction, the official electorate of seven finally said, “enough’s enough.”
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Chairman John Sykes said as much when he told Variety magazine, “That’s exactly what it’s about,” when Khan’s entry was likened to getting her in through a side door.
“Because if someone’s been nominated so many times, but there’s a disconnect between the nominating committee and the general ballot, after it’s been five or six times, then we realize that there’s such a strong belief in them by the nominating committee that we can honor them,” Sykes told Variety, before mentioning similar recent inductions involving LL Cool J and Judas Priest.
Okay, at least Sykes is being honest, which takes us back to the original question: why even have it set up like this in the first place?
If you’re gonna have a general board, then maybe establish a limit that says if someone is nominated say five times, then they’re automatically in. Or simply induct a larger class each year (if they’re going to eventually get in anyway).
It just doesn’t make sense that a music legend like Chaka Khan is being inducted in 2023–regardless of category—when she was eligible 25 years ago (for a career that started with her first recording in 1973), while Sheryl Crow or rapper Missy Elliott is inducted on their first ballots (and, in Missy’s case, her first year of eligibility!).
Oh, and while the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame didn’t ask my opinion about any of these things—and they are just that, opinions—those same experts really should consider a name change for the institution as well, from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Music Hall of Fame.
But these are just my opinions, of course. Feel free to provide yours in the comment section below or in any of the social media feeds where the article is posted.
And a big congratulations goes to all of this year’s inductees: Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, Kate Bush, Willie Nelson, George Michael, Rage Against the Machine, the Spinners, DJ Kool Herc, Link Wray, Al Kooper, Bernie Taupin, Don Cornelius…
And especially, Chaka Khan…finally!
DJRob (he/him/his), who is a top contender for the title of Chaka Khan’s No. 1 fan, is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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