And that’s not a knock on R&B artists being in the RRHOF.
To be clear, for those of you who harbor the narrow-minded view that R&B artists don’t belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because they’re not “rock enough” and the so-named museum is only for those who know how to strum or pluck a guitar and apply amplifier distortion, I have two messages: 1) you don’t know your Rock and Roll history, and 2) this article is not for you, you should go troll somewhere else.
Ok, now that that’s out of the way.
With this past Tuesday’s announcement of the nominees for 2019 induction into the RRHOF came the annual grousing over who does and who does not belong. This year’s potential class is a mixture of earlier and first-time nominees, including fan faves like Rage Against the Machine, The Cure, and nostalgic entries such as Roxy Music, Devo and left-field nominees LL Cool J and Kraftwerk (both of whom have been nominated four times each).
Also among this year’s nominees are two R&B females (one solo and one with the group with whom she first became famous 45 years ago) who’ve been nominated seven times between them.
I’m referring to Janet Jackson (solo) and Chaka Khan (with her former group Rufus).
Before I lay out the argument for why these two should already be in the RRHOF, let’s acknowledge that this institution has already recognized more than 100 artists who could easily qualify as R&B/soul musicians or singers. Although it’s a predominantly male list, superstar soul acts like The O’Jays, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Al Green, Bobby Womack and Clyde McPhatter have been in the Hall for years. Female soul singers like Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Etta James, Gladys Knight and, of course, Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin have also been permanently etched in the hallowed halls of Cleveland’s museum for decades.
So it is a bit of a surprise that someone of Janet’s stature hasn’t yet been inducted. As far as solo female singers go, she is likely the most successful and most recognizable artist of any music genre who has yet to be included among the more than 200 artists that have been inducted in the “performer” category.
As far as R&B artists go, one could argue that Janet has more of a case for being in the Hall than recent inductees like Bill Withers, Donna Summer (admittedly more disco than R&B), Darlene Love and The Miracles (who were inducted as a backing band in 2012 without Smokey Robinson, who’d been inducted previously).
Using influence as a factor, Janet has more of a case for being in the Hall than many of the rock artists already there, including recent inductees like Peter Gabriel, Randy Newman, Lou Reed and Steve Miller. Jackson’s music and her visual art have influenced countless women over the decades, and men too.
Janet Jackson has been eligible for induction since 2007, 25 years after her first solo recording, yet she’s been nominated only twice, with the first coming in 2016. Fellow dance-pop superstar Madonna has been in the RRHOF since 2008, the first year of her eligibility. While Madonna has had more worldwide fame and record sales than Janet, she’s certainly no more rock and roll than Ms. Jackson, and in some cases – at least musically – even less so (Madonna never ventured far enough from her comfort zone to give us a “Black Cat” or “What About?”).
And being a pop-leaning female act didn’t stop acts like Brenda Lee, the Ronettes and the Supremes from getting in, which suggests that there may be something more to Jackson not being inducted than meets the eye, like the baggage that comes with the Jackson name, the notion that she rode her famous brother’s coattails to success (which is, at this point, ludicrous given her own accomplishments), or – dare I say it – the 2004 Super Bowl controversy (although other artists with far greater controversies are in the Hall).
As for Chaka Khan, she’s more of a dark horse. Her accomplishments in music are not as great as Janet’s (yet Khan has been nominated three more times) but certainly rival many of the other artists that are already in the Hall, including some of the above-mentioned artists like Bill Withers, Darlene Love and Randy Newman.
Khan’s career dates back to the early 1970s and her group Rufus, with whom she scored dozens of hit singles including five No. 1 R&B smashes. Her solo career began in 1978 and includes three more No. 1 R&B hits, particularly iconic tunes like “I’m Every Woman” and “I Feel For You.”
Even if you were to argue that one or two iconic songs should not guarantee an artist’s entry, the same could have been said for the likes of Joan Jett, Del Shannon and Darlene Love, all of whom are in the RRHOF.
Khan – for reasons that are not obvious – alternately goes from being nominated with her former group Rufus or as a solo artist. This year happens to be a Rufus & Chaka year, which likely dilutes Khan’s chances of getting in. Still, as backing bands go, one could certainly do worse than the ‘70s funk excellence of Rufus. One need only look to the slate of backing bands who were allowed entry in 2012 – like the Comets, the Crickets, the Blue Caps and the Midnighters – to understand this point.
And while such titles are usually self-proclaimed and don’t have any real meaning outside of the marketing tool for which they were intended, any artist bearing the title “Queen of Funk” and who’s been wearing it for as long as Chaka Khan has deserves RRHOF entry. No one else will likely ever take the funk crown from the woman who has been doing it for five decades.
Of course, all of this is subjective and a matter of opinion. Arguments for who deserves to be and not to be in the RRHOF are about as old as the institution itself and will be renewed with each annual announcement of new nominees and inductees.
Still, few can argue that there are more deserving artists – of any genre – than these two R&B (and pop) icons Janet and Chaka.
Let ‘em in already!