This Week in Music History: 1985 The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Opens
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a museum located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, United States. It is dedicated to archiving the history of some of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers and others who have, in some major way, influenced the music industry.
Since the Museum’s opening, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has welcomed nearly eight million visitors from around the world and reaches more than 50,000 students and educators each year through its education programs on site and at great distances.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was created on April 20, 1983, by Atlantic Records founder and chairman Ahmet Ertegun. He assembled a team that included attorney Suzan Evans, Rolling Stone magazine editor and publisher Jann S. Wenner, attorney Allen Grubman and record executives Seymour Stein, Bob Krasnow and Noreen Woods. The Foundation began inducting artists in 1986, but the Hall of Fame still had no home. The search committee considered several cities, including Memphis (home of Sun Studios and Stax Records), Detroit (home of Motown Records), Cincinnati (home of King Records), New York City, and Cleveland.
Cleveland lobbied for the museum, citing that WJW disc jockey Alan Freed both coined the term “rock and roll” and heavily promoted the new genre—and that Cleveland was the location of Freed’s Moondog Coronation Ball, the first major rock and roll concert. In addition, Cleveland cited radio station WMMS, which played a key role in breaking several major acts in the U.S. during the 1970s and 80s, including artist David Bowie, who began his first U.S. tour in the city, Bruce Springsteen, Roxy Music, and Rush among many others. Cleveland was also one of the premier tour stops for most rock bands.
Civic leaders in Cleveland pledged $65 million in public money to fund the construction. A petition drive was signed by 600,000 fans favoring Cleveland over Memphis, and Cleveland ranked first in a 1986 USA Today poll asking where the Hall of Fame should be located. On May 5, 1986, the Hall of Fame Foundation chose Cleveland as the permanent home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
There are seven levels in the building. On the lower level is the Ahmet M. ErtegunExhibition Hall, the museum’s main gallery. It includes exhibits on the roots of rock and roll (gospel, blues, rhythm & blues and folk, country and bluegrass). It also features exhibits on several cities that have had a major impact on rock and roll: Memphis, Detroit, London and Liverpool, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle. There are also exhibits on soul music, the Fifties, Sun Records, Atlantic Records, Cleveland’s rock and roll legacy, the music of the Midwest, rock and roll radio and dee-jays, and the many protests against rock and roll. This gallery also has exhibits that focus on individual artists, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and others. Finally, the Ahmet M. Ertegun Exhibition Hall includes two theaters, one of which features a film about the roots of rock and roll and one that features films on various subjects.
The first floor of the museum is the entrance level. It includes a stage that the museum uses for various special performances and events throughout the year, and a section called Right Here, Right Now, which focuses on contemporary artists. The second floor includes several interactive kiosks that feature programs on one-hit wonders and the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. This level also includes a gallery with artifact-driven exhibits about Les Paul, Alan Freed, Sam Phillips and the evolution of audio technology.
Visitors enter the actual Hall of Fame section of the museum on the third floor. This section includes a wall with all of the inductees’ signatures, a theater that features filmed musical highlights from all of the Hall’s inductees and an exhibit featuring artifacts from the latest class of inductees. Visitors exit the Hall of Fame section on the fourth floor. That level features the Foster Theater, a state-of-the-art 3-D theater. The theater is also used for special events and programs.
Finally, the top two levels of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame feature large, temporary exhibits. Over the years, numerous exhibits have been installed on these two levels, including exhibits about Elvis Presley, hip-hop, the Supremes, the Who, U2, John Lennon, the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Women Who Rock and, most recently, the Rolling Stones.