It’s been almost four decades since that first class!
On January 23, 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted its first class of artists at a ceremony held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, MyRadioLink reports. The inaugural class was one to remember, featuring a number of rock pioneer performers like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, and iconic A&R John Hammond, who received the Hall’s very first Lifetime Achievement Award and is credited with discovering Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.
The night featured tributes from The Beatles’ Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger while John Lennon’s sons, Julian and Sean Lennon, paid tribute to their father’s idol, Elvis Presley. According to History.com, the next year, Aretha Franklin made history as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s first woman inductee, but that first inaugural class set a precedent for many years to come. Despite the night being historic, one filled with stars, what stands out the most is the overwhelming majority of Black artists that were inducted. It’s more proof of Black artists’ role in shaping many genres of music, rock and roll chief of these, and why the impact must be remembered and preserved in perpetuity.
To help with that preservation, here is a list we’ve compiled of all the Black artists inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, courtesy of RockHall.com:
Considered the "Father of Rock ‘N’ Roll," Berry’s name is synonymous with the genre of music. The St. Louis native was inducted by Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones in the performers category.
In recent years, Johnson’s work has received renewed interest but for Rock ‘N’ Roll fans, he’s always been a mainstay. While there’s a lot of mystery and legend surrounding Johnson, his influence on the music outpaces it all. He was inducted in the early influences category by Robert Palmer.
Born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia, Little Richard is widely held as a founding father of Rock ‘N’ Roll. He is also one of the most transgressive artists of his time, pushing the boundaries of artistry to pioneer a new trail for musicians in sound, genre, and style. He was inducted into the performers category by Roberta Flack.
Known best for making the piano an integral part of the Rock ‘N’ Roll sound, Fats Domino is considered a founding father and pioneer of the “boogie-woogie” style of music. He was inducted by Billy Joel into the performers category.
Yancey was another “boogie-woogie” pianist who became a pioneer of the early sound of Rock ‘N’ Roll. A self-taught musician, his signature style was marked by “unpredictable bass lines and sharp, staccato accents” that shaped the 1920s and 1930s music scene. Yancey was inducted in the early influences category by Ahmet Ertegun.
“Gospel and the blues are really, if you break it down, almost the same thing. It’s just a question of whether you’re talkin' about a woman or God,” Ray Charles once said.
An early pioneer of soul music, Ray Charles has sometimes been referred to as the “Genius of Soul.” Combining R&B, gospel, and blues, Charles’ impact on music as a whole cannot be understated. Blinded as a child, he grew to become one of the most influential musicians of all time. He was inducted into the performers category by Quincy Jones.
He is known as “The Godfather of Soul” and was once regarded as “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” James Brown is an icon of all icons. He rose from his days as a child picking cotton and shining shoes to becoming one of the most prolific artists of all time. He is a forefather of soul, funk music, and rap, and one of the greatest performers to ever grace a stage. Brown was a part of the inaugural class of inductees, inducted into the performers category by Steve Winwood.
A superstar soul singer and activist whose latter title received coverage in Regina King’s directorial debut entitled “One Night in Miami,” Cooke was beloved by many. His blend of gospel and secular propelled the soul music genre and helped it cross over into popular culture. A favorite among both white and Black audiences, Cooke was able to use his platform to effect change in music and beyond. He was inducted into the performers category of the Hall’s inaugural class by Herb Alpert.
In homage of the 37th anniversary of the very first Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, we honor all of the Black artists included in the inaugural class of inductees. Because of them, we can.
Here’s a list of all the Black artists inducted into the first Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. James Brown performs at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in California, October 1964. Photo Courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images