“This diverse group of inductees each had a profound impact on the sound of youth culture and helped change the course of rock & roll,”
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2022 inductees were announced Wednesday with some of music history’s most iconic names making the cut.
Performer Category: Lionel Richie
Lionel Richie spent a decade as rock & roll’s King Midas – everything he touched turned to gold. With his finger firmly on the pulse of popular music, he crafted enduring love songs and joyous anthems that resonated deeply with listeners. Richie’s effortlessly smooth voice dominated the late 1970s and 1980s, his popularity rivaled only by Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Whitney Houston. His record six Grammy nominations for Song of the Year is an achievement only matched by Paul McCartney.
Richie’s path to solo superstardom was built on a string of massive hits, including his group the Commodores’ “Easy,” Kenny Rogers’ “Lady,” and Richie’s duet with Diana Ross, “Endless Love.” His solo debut earned his first Grammy, but his follow-up, Can’t Slow Down, rocketed him into the stratosphere, selling over 20 million copies and winning Album of the Year. The album’s two signature hits – the tug-at-your-heartstrings “Hello” and the Caribbean-influenced “All Night Long” – showcased Richie’s ability to write both the songs you fall in love to and the songs you close the party with. In 1985, Richie and Michael Jackson channeled their songwriting toward humanitarian efforts with “We Are the World,” raising millions for African hunger relief. A year later, “Say You, Say Me” earned an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Richie demonstrated his longevity and flexibility with the 2012 chart-topper Tuskegee, reimagining his hits as duets with country music’s biggest stars and introducing his music to a new generation. That same year, U.S. troops in Iraq used “All Night Long” as their unofficial anthem – the song’s jubilance bringing levity in the face of hardships.
The influence of Richie’s emotive storytelling can be heard in the music of Babyface, Mariah Carey, Tim McGraw, and the contemporary R&B of Ne-Yo. Recent recognition includes the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Kennedy Center Honors, and the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Richie writes about love the way we want to feel about love, his feel-good music providing a colorful landscape for life’s most significant memories and a soundtrack for celebrations all over the globe.
Musical Excellence Award: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis
James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis are known for their studio magic, creating smooth, funky synth-laden grooves, as well as their signature style – dark sunglasses, black suits, and black fedora hats. Minneapolis natives, they joined forces while still in high school and soon found themselves rocketed into the orbit of rising superstar Prince as members of the band the Time. That period exposed them to the music business and touring, and how to perfect the sound of a band on the road and in the studio. Jam & Lewis became innovators of the Minneapolis sound, an exciting blend of jazz, soul, R&B, funk, disco, early punk, new wave, and dance. After Prince fired them for missing a gig (because they were busy producing other bands), they decided to take their production and songwriting skills and form Flyte Tyme Productions in 1982. What followed was a string of smash R&B dance floor hits for artists, including Klymaxx, Cheryl Lynn, Gladys Knight, Force M.D.’s, Cherrelle, and the S.O.S. Band. Their musical toolkit included the boom and pop of the 808 drum machine, scorching lead synthesizer lines, deep melodic basslines, and a total commitment to the groove of a song – a sound they referred to as the “funky bottom and the pretty top.”
When Jam & Lewis next sought an artist to work with, they agreed on one name: Janet Jackson. The album Control (1986) gave them the chance to refine their songwriting and production into a killer counterpart to Janet’s lyrical and melodic mastery – and in the process they created the New Jack Swing style. What followed were over three decades of chart-topping Billboard singles and albums.
Jam & Lewis created a production company, recording studio, and signature sound responsible for “making” an artist’s career – the songs and sounds that stick with fans forever. Their work in the studio has incorporated the newest available technologies and defined how entire generations of musicians created music. They pushed artists to new levels (Mary J. Blige’s No More Drama) and gave musicians a spark that revolutionized sonic explorations (the Human League’s Crash). They took the sound of “Minneapolis!” and made it a worldwide universal groove deeply rooted in the soul of Black music.
Early Influence Award: Harry Belafonte
Drawing from several musical traditions, Harry Belafonte’s lyrical baritone and emotive singing connected Americans to Black world culture. Singer, actor, producer, activist, and ally, Belafonte used the arts as a mechanism to effect social change on a global scale.
Belafonte was born in Harlem in 1927 to multiethnic parents from the Caribbean. As a child, he moved to his mother’s native Kingston, Jamaica – “an environment that sang” – where he was exposed to the captivating music of calypso as well as prejudice based on his skin tone. Back in New York, Belafonte began acting classes at the New School’s Dramatic Workshop in 1945, where he befriended actor-singer-activist Paul Robeson, the inspiration for Belafonte’s social activism. Swept up in the New York folk scene in 1950, Belafonte created a new repertoire of folk songs, work songs, and calypsos, providing an authentic and dignified look at Black life and earning him a contract with RCA Victor in 1953.
In 1955, Belafonte met Irving Burgie (aka Lord Burgess), whose songwriting on Belafonte’s debut album would forever change Belafonte’s career. The first album to sell over a million copies in a year, Calypso (1956) introduced Caribbean folk music to American audiences, who dubbed Belafonte the King of Calypso. This early sound made a lasting impact on American music – Gotye, Lil’ Wayne, and Jason Derulo have all sampled “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” in recent years, while “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora)” was featured in the 1988 film Beetlejuice and its 2019 Broadway musical production.
In the 1960s, Belafonte returned to his musical roots in American folk, jazz, and standards, while also emerging as a strong voice for the civil rights movement. Belafonte was a close confidante, friend, and supporter of Martin Luther King, Jr. He helped organize “We Are the World” and has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1987. He was a Grand Marshal for the 2013 New York City Pride Parade and advised on the 2017 Women’s March on Washington.
At the age of 95, Belafonte has epitomized the life of a world citizen, living by a single truth: “Get them to sing your song, and they will want to know who you are, and if they’ve made that first step, we can find a solution to hate.”
Early Influence Award: Elizabeth Cotten
Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten’s warm and intimate recordings and live performances inspired generations of artists, and her guitar prowess and musical inventiveness influenced countless other musicians. Cotten’s compositions have been performed by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal, and Peter, Paul and Mary, among many others.
Cotten began composing music as a child, bringing together strains of oral traditions, church singing, ragtime, popular songs, and music played by traveling and local musicians. She quickly mastered the guitar and banjo, developing a distinctive fingerpicking guitar technique that later became widely known as “Cotten style” or “Cotten picking.” Being left-handed, she taught herself to play the instrument upside-down, picking the bass strings with her fingers and treble strings with her thumb. Consequently, while Cotten’s guitar style has been widely imitated, her sound is nearly impossible to replicate.
Cotten did not begin recording or performing outside family circles until she was in her sixties. After being hired as nanny and maid for the illustrious Seeger family (musicologist Charles Seeger, composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, and their children Pete, Mike, and Peggy), Cotten surprised the family one day by playing some songs from her youth on their guitar, and they immediately recognized her musical genius and virtuosity. Mike Seeger later produced Cotten’s first LP, a highly influential album of the folk revival.
Cotten recorded and performed at festivals, concerts, and coffeehouses until her death at 92. During her final years, she was declared a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts and recognized as a “living treasure” by the Smithsonian Institution. She received a Grammy Award at the age of 90. Her best-known composition, “Freight Train” – written when she was only 12 – still stands as an immortal American folk classic, and many of her songs have become staples in the repertoires of thousands of artists who have kept her unique musical legacy alive.
Ahmet Ertegun Award: Sylvia Robinson
Artist, songwriter, producer, record label owner, and CEO: the original hip-hop mogul. Sylvia Robinson laid the foundation for rap to flourish into the most lucrative music genre today.
Sylvia Robinson’s motto was to always be original. Few Black women broke into the music industry in non-singing roles at rock’s beginning, but Robinson sang, produced, wrote, and wielded a guitar throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1964, she introduced husband Joe Robinson to the record business. In 1979, they created Sugar Hill Records in Englewood, New Jersey. Sylvia—the label’s CEO and main creative force—decided to focus their latest venture on an underground musical style she first heard at the Harlem World Club. She assembled a new group, the Sugarhill Gang, and produced their song “Rapper’s Delight,” combining rhymes from Grandmaster Caz with a re-recording of the breakbeat from Chic’s “Good Times.” “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip-hop gold record and enabled artists in the Bronx hip-hop subculture to enter the mainstream. It did for hip-hop what the Beatles playing Ed Sullivan did for rock in the 1960s—inspiring countless future MCs to pick up a mic and speak their truth.
Robinson was just getting started. She signed the Sequence—the first all-woman and first Southern hip-hop group to record commercially—setting the stage for groups like Salt-N-Pepa and the genre’s eventual geographic expansion beyond the East and West Coasts. She coproduced the first hip-hop track featuring turntable techniques (“The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”), which paved the way for production techniques like sampling. She convinced a hesitant Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to record “The Message,” a song that became the blueprint for both socially conscious hip-hop and gangsta rap. In other words, Robinson spearheaded nearly every significant innovation in the first wave of recorded hip-hop. Most impressively, she did so in a male-dominated world. The entire hip-hop industry began with the perseverance, creativity, and business savvy of Sylvia Robinson.