Prophets Without Honor (Or, “What’s It Take to Get a Nomination Around Here?”)

With Mary and Eric of Hall Watchers

Back when I published my post about Gil Scott-Heron (is it six months already?), I got a message from Mary at Hall Watchers saying that she’d just been doing some research on artists with significant honors who’ve yet to score a Rock Hall nomination, and Scott-Heron was on that list.

She was kind enough to share her findings with me and invite me to expand on them in a post. So here it is: a baker’s dozen artists who’ve received significant honors not just from the music industry – Grammys, Songwriters Hall of Fame– but from the gatekeepers of American culture as a whole – the Kennedy Center Honors, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and others, and have no Rock Hall noms to date.

Looking at each artist in turn, it’s clear that the Rock Hall doesn’t own the market on inconsistencies: awards are a human institution and therefore often arbitrary. I was repeatedly struck by just how arbitrary. For example: Why do Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine or Diana Ross solo have NO recordings in the Grammy HOF? Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill” has long been hailed as a groundbreaking track that both reflected and influenced the culture of its time, so why is “Coal Miner’s Daughter” the only one of her recordings included there or on the National Registry?

But the thing I’ve really taken away from this doesn’t even have to do with the Hall. It’s the realization that Dolly Parton, despite her success as a musician, actor, businesswoman, and especially as a humanitarian, has not been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It’s not right, and it seriously pisses me off. Politics aren’t part of it: she deserves it.

It’s been a fascinating dive – thank you Mary and Eric for sharing this knowledge.

A few notes:

Genre purists will cry foul right off the bat and point out that these artists aren’t rock; a majority (three-fourths) come from country and jazz. Granted, but the Hall has generally taken the Ice Cube/Lester Bangs position that rock and roll is an attitude, and you can trace a link from probably every single rock artist already in the Hall – and others not so honored –and  at least one of the artists listed here.

For the purposes of this post, with the exception of a random note here and there, I’m staying with this list of awards. I think Mary chose the most important ones, and there are so many out there that it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

But for the country artists, I added two additional honors that are highly exclusive and have the same if not greater – importance in that genre: membership in the Grand Ole Opry and induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame. That last one is a tough nut to crack: The Judds haven’t done it, Dwight Yoakam hasn’t done it, The Gatlin Brothers haven’t done it, and Hank Williams Jr. JUST did it with a career spanning six decades.

First, the background and general qualification for the awards:

Country Music HOF

“Election to the Country Music Hall of Fame is country music’s highest honor. The first members were inducted in 1961. Election to the Country Music Hall of Fame is solely the prerogative of the CMA. New members (are) elected annually by an anonymous panel of industry leaders chosen by the CMA.”


(This is a tough nut to crack: Only three acts pass through the hallowed gates each year, in strictly defined categories. For more detail, here’s my blog post on the CMHOF from 2018:

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The Gershwin Prize

“The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song celebrates the work of an artist whose career reflects lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding. The selection is made by the Librarian of Congress in consultation with a board that is both credible and broad enough in scope to represent the full spectrum of popular song. Board members may include but need not be limited to scholars, producers, performers, music critics, songwriters, and subject specialists within and outside the Library of Congress.”


Grammy Hall of Fame  

“The GRAMMY Hall Of Fame was established by the Recording Academy’s National Trustees in 1973 to honor recordings (Note: These can be singles or albums. -MB) of lasting qualitative or historical significance that are at least 25 years old. Inductees are selected annually by a special member committee of eminent and knowledgeable professionals from all branches of the recording arts.”

The Hall contains 1,114 recordings and can be viewed at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.


Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

“This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Recording Academy’s National Trustees to performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording. (*Through 1972, recipients included non-performers.)”


Grand Ole Opry

“The decision to increase the Opry’s ranks is…made exclusively by the show’s management. The people who’ve been entrusted with the Opry’s tradition and future direction take into account all the standards of success in country music—radio airplay, recorded music sales, touring success, industry recognition—when considering an act for membership. The Opry considers career accomplishment as well as the potential for continued success.”


Kennedy Center Honors

“The Kennedy Center Honors provide recognition to living individuals who throughout their lifetimes have made significant contributions to American culture through the performing arts. The primary criterion is excellence, and artistic achievement in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures, and television is considered.”


Presidential Medal of Freedom

“Established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, this prestigious award is the Nation’s highest civilian honor. It is awarded by the President of the United States to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”


The National Recording Registry

“(Each year since 2002) the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress chooses 25 recordings showcasing the range and diversity of American recorded sound heritage in order to increase preservation awareness.”



“The National Museum of American History collects artifacts of all kinds—from gowns to locomotives—to preserve for the American people an enduring record of their past.”


Songwriters HOF

“Established in 1969, the Songwriters Hall of Fame honors those whose work represents a spectrum of the most beloved songs from the world’s popular music songbook. A songwriter with a notable catalog of songs qualifies for induction 20 years after the first commercial release of a song. Out of the tens of thousands of songwriters of our era, there are approximately 400 inductees.”


And with that, the artists:

(Statistics included here are taken from the respective websites of the awards. Any inaccuracy/discrepancy is from that information.)

Glen Campbell

The Wrecking Crew should be considered for membership as well, so Glen Campbell really should be a candidate for the “Clyde McPhatter Club” as a multiple inductee. But these recognitions should earn him a look from the Nom Com on his own.

Country Music Hall of Fame: 2005

Grammy Hall of Fame:

By the Time I Get to Phoenix (single) (‘67/’04)

Gentle on My Mind (single) (‘67/’08)

Wichita Lineman (single) (‘68/’00)

Grammy Lifetime Achievement: 2012

National Recording Registry:

Wichita Lineman (‘68/’19)



The Carter Family

As puts it: “The most influential group in country music history, the Carter Family switched the emphasis from hillbilly instrumentals to vocals, made scores of their songs part of the standard country music canon, and made a style of guitar playing, “Carter picking,” the dominant technique for decades. (Among) the first country music stars… (their) pure, simple harmony…influenced folk, bluegrass, and rock musicians like Woody Guthrie, Bill Monroe, the Kingston Trio, Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, and Emmylou Harris, to mention just a few.”

Country Music Hall of Fame: 1970 (First group to be inducted)

Grammy Hall of Fame:

Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By) (single) (‘35/’98)

Keep on the Sunny Side (single) (‘28/’06)

Wildwood Flower (single) (‘28/’99)

Grammy Lifetime Achievement: 2005

National Recording Registry:

“Wildwood Flower” (single) (‘28/’06)



John Coltrane

Artists as diverse as U2, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Duane Allman, and Eric Clapton cite him as an influence. The Byrds declared in a 1967 press conference that their iconic “Eight Mile High” was an attempt to bring his approach to music to the world of electric guitar. Miles Davis paid tribute to him on stage for years. The late Ronald Bell of Kool and the Gang said, “My greatest influence was John Coltrane…I wanted to be like John Coltrane and the trumpet player wanted to be Miles Davis.”

Grammy Hall of Fame: 

A Love Supreme (album) (‘65/’99)

Ballads (album) (‘62/’08)

Blue Train (album) (‘57/’99)

Giant Steps (album) (‘60/’01)

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (album) (’63/’13)

Lush Life (album) (‘61/’16)

Lush Life (single) (‘63/’00)

My Favorite Things (album) (‘61/’98)

Theolonius Monk and John Coltrane (album) (‘61/’07)

Grammy Lifetime Achievement: 1997

National Recording Registry:

Giant Steps (album) (‘59/’04)

A Love Supreme (album) (‘64/’15)


(In 2014, the exhibit “Smithsonian Celebrates 50th Anniversary of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme” honored this milestone with lectures, rare photos, and Coltrane’s score of the album).

Also of note:

Pulitzer: Special citation 2007, for “his masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz.”

A former home, the John Coltrane House in Philadelphia, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999. His last home, the John Coltrane Home in the Dix Hills district of Huntington, New York, where he resided from 1964 until his death, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 29, 2007.


Gloria Estefan

Her career has spanned five decades. In that time, she has brought Latin music into the public consciousness and gone on to transcend it and simply become one of the most successful, honored, and esteemed artists of her generation.

Gershwin Prize: 2019 (w/Emilio) (Along with Carole King, one of just two women honorees)

Kennedy Center Honors: 2017

Natl Recording Registry:

Rhythm is Gonna Get You (single) (‘87/’17)

Presidential Medal of Freedom: 2015 (w/Emilio)


Songwriters Hall of Fame:

Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award (w/Emilio), 2001

Nominated, 2019


Ella Fitzgerald

The term “cultural icon” may be a bit of a cliché, but in the case of Ella Fitzgerald, it doesn’t go far enough. It’s been said that anyone who wants to be a singer should know her, and artists like Mica Paris, K.T. Tunstall, Patti Austin, Lana del Rey, Adele, and Lady Gaga honor her as an inspiration.

Grammy Lifetime Achievement: 1967

Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings:

A-Tisket, A-Tasket (single) (‘38/’86)

Ella and Basie!   (album) (‘63/’10)

Ella and Louis     (album) (‘56/’00)

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book (album) (‘56/’00)

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book (album) (‘59/’19)

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers & Hart Song Book (album) (‘56/’99)        

Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife (album) (‘60/’99)

Porgy & Bess (album) (‘58/’01)

Kennedy Center Honors: 1979

National Recording Registry:

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book (album) (‘56/’03)     

Presidential Medal of Freedom: 1992



Merle Haggard

Johnny Cash once said that Merle Haggard was “What they all think I am.” He was a true maverick and country in style but rock and roll in attitude. His tunes have been covered by the likes of the Grateful Dead, Keith Richards, the Byrds, John Fogerty, Jorma Kaukonen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, George Thorogood, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Country Joe McDonald, and Lemmy (with Throw Rag).

Country Music Hall of Fame:  1994

Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings:

Mama Tried (single) (‘68/’99)

Okie from Muskogee (single) (‘68/’17)

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards: 2006

Kennedy Center Honors: 2010

National Recording Registry:

Mama Tried (single) (‘68/’15)


Songwriters Hall of Fame: 2007


Carole King

She’s in the Hall as an Ertegun Award recipient with her former husband, the late Gerry Goffin, but that leaves out the epic success of her solo album “Tapestry,” her solo songwriting and performing career, and her autobiographical Broadway musical, “Beautiful.”. Did you know she’s worked with Eric Clapton AND Slash? And her response to Aretha singing “Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors is the cutest thing ever.

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award: 2013

Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings: 

It’s Too Late (single) (‘71/’03)

Tapestry (album) (‘71/’98)

You’ve Got a Friend (single) (‘71/’02)

Kennedy Center Honors: 2015

Gershwin Prize:  2013 (The first woman so honored and one of only two, along with Gloria Estefan)

National Recording Registry:

Tapestry (album) (‘71/’03)

Presidential Medal of Freedom: 2013


Songwriters Hall of Fame: 1987 (Inducted the same year as writing partner Gerry Goffin, but has separate entry)


Loretta Lynn

No award or accolade – she has scores more than those listed here – or capsule bio captures this woman’s importance. To say she broke ground and for female artists who came after her is an understatement. She is, still, the first lady of country music, and so much more. 

Country Music Hall of Fame: 1988

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award: 2010

Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings:

Coal Miner’s Daughter (single) (‘70/’98)

Grand Ole Opry Membership: 1972

Kennedy Center Honors: 2016

National Recording Registry:

Coal Miner’s Daughter (single) (‘70/’09)

Presidential Medal of Freedom: 2013


Songwriters Hall of Fame: 2008


Willie Nelson

Willie Effing Nelson. What else needs to be said? Oh, maybe that the CMA Lifetime Achievement Award is NAMED AFTER HIM.

Country Music Hall of Fame: 1993

Gershwin Prize: 2015

Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings:

Always on My Mind (single) (‘82/’08)

On the Road Again (album) (‘80/’11)

Red Headed Stranger (album) (‘75/’02)

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award: 2000

(Also: Member of Grammy Legends inaugural class, 1990)

Grand Ole Opry Membership: 1964 (lapsed prior to 1968)

Kennedy Center Honors: 1998

National Recording Registry:

Red Headed Stranger (album) (‘75/’09)


Songwriters Hall of Fame: 2001


Dolly Parton

The more iconic the performer, the more superfluous words become. And in a way, so do honors and titles. But I’ll say it again in all seriousness: that she’s not a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient is a travesty that must change.

Country Music Hall of Fame: 1999

Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings:

I Will Always Love You (single) (‘74/’07)

Jolene (single) (‘73/’14)

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award: 2014

Grand Ole Opry Membership: 1969

Kennedy Center Honors: 2006

National Recording Registry:

Coat of Many Colors (single) (‘71/’11)


Songwriters Hall of Fame: 2001

Also of note:

2-time Oscar nominee for “9 to 5” (‘81) and “Travelin’ Thru” (from “Transamerica”) (‘05)

If you want to see ALL of her awards, just go here; I can’t even:


Diana Ross

Of course inducted with the Supremes, she’s simply one of the most accomplished and yes, iconic female solo artists in history. Her career has netted more than 70 hit singles, 12 Grammy nominations, and a Golden Globe award and Academy Award nomination for her lead role in “Lady Sings the Blues.” All this led Billboard magazine to name her “Female Artist of the Century.” She is, truly, The Boss.

Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings:

Stop! In the Name of Love (‘65/’01)*

Where Did Our Love Go (‘64/’99)*

You Keep Me Hanging On (‘66/’99)*

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award: 2012

Kennedy Center Honors: 2007

National Recording Registry:

Where Did Our Love Go (‘65/’15) *

Presidential Medal of Freedom: 2016


Songwriters Hall of Fame: Howie Richmond Hitmaker Award, 1998

*Credited to The Supremes


Gil Scott-Heron

He merged poetry and music to offer biting commentary on his world and times. In the process did more than create lasting art, but also became – unwillingly – the honored grandfather of rap and hip hop. One can only imagine what he would say of the times we’re living in now.

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award: 2012

Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (single) (‘71/’14)

National Recording Registry:

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (album) (‘70/’05)



Tina Turner

She is, quite simply, the queen. And what she’s done as a solo artist more than merits a Rock Hall induction. The sooner, the better.

Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings:

Proud Mary (w/Ike) (single) (‘70/’03)

River Deep, Mountain High (single) (credited w/Ike) (‘66/’99)

What’s Love Got to Do With It- (single) (‘84/’12)

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award: 2018

Kennedy Center Honors: 2005

National Recording Registry:

Private Dancer (album) (‘84/’09)


Also of note:

Ordre des Arts et des Lettres: 1996

France’s most prestigious arts honor; only awarded to artists considered to have made notable contributions towards popular culture in France.

Guinness Book of World Records (1988-1997) Largest paying rock concert attendance for a solo artist      (180,000), “Break Every Rule” World Tour, Rio de Janeiro   

And on the topic of prophets without honor, I recently came across this: Jim Croce is a Songwriter’s Hall inductees. Incidentally, he’s also on the Alumni Wall of Fame of his high school alma mater, Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, Upper Darby, PA. It’s also the high school alma mater of Liz Lemon herself, Tina Fey. But I knew it instantly as the high school of one wizard and true star, Todd Rundgren. (What a concentration of talent!) While Croce and Fey are on the Wall, Mr. Rundgren, despite his honorary doctorates from Berklee College of Music and DePauw University, numerous gold records, and two Rock Hall noms, is not. I weep. Must be the unabashed advocacy of recreational drug use….

Politics, Filthy Lucre and Ritchie Valens’ Roller Skates: A Look at “The House That Rock Built”

I don’t know how many books there are out there that chronicle the creation of a museum from scratch. I’d wager not many. But even if the shelves at Barnes and Noble were filled with them, the story of building the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a singular one. “The House that Rock Built,” by noted DJ and author Norm N. Nite and former Plain Dealer journalist Tom Feran, tells that story from the inside: one of the first Clevelanders to get involved, Nite was there from the time the Hall was a twinkle in Cleveland’s eye right up through the opening extravaganza in September of 1995. (With a show that was scheduled for six hours and still ran long – some things never change).

Reading this book brings it home that many of the issues we see today in how the Hall operates aren’t new, but date back to the Hall’s genesis. And they didn’t necessarily happen for the reasons you might think.

Five Songs to Celebrate Canada Day

This Wednesday, Canada celebrates its national holiday. In the 153 years it’s been around, the nation to the north of us has gifted some pretty incredible music to the world. Here are five songs to honor it in all its vibrant forms. Bonne fête!

A brilliant song meets a sublime voice. And it got her a co-writing credit with the Rolling Stones.

A little of Queen St. in beautiful Toronto here:

Now in his 80s and still active, Gord is a legend. This is to celebrate the 45 my mom brought home for me one day, 69 cents in the rack at Turn-Style. (Sale price was 49 cents). It was like no other song on the radio – then and now.

The first Indigenous person to receive an Academy Award, as the co-writer of this classic:

In the pocket:

“All the dreams you show up in are not your own”: The Legacy of Gil Scott-Heron

Back in the day (mid 80s), I was lucky enough to have the coolest job ever –  a record store clerk. I started at the more “alternative” Co-Op Records (the company logo featured some ambiguous flora, albums filed in crates, dim lighting, head shop by the register), but then moved to “the big time”: uptown to the Music Den at the mall. Here we had real fixtures, sold skinny ties and pins with band logos and photos by the register, and had a big light-up purple star in the front window to showcase Chicago “17” and “Brothers in Arms.” We were happening.

And it was here, in the too-bright lighting with the scent of burnt KarmelKorn wafting across the hall,  that, courtesy of my uber-cool boss, Kat, I was turned on to a new album called “The Best of Gil Scott-Heron.”

“The Eyes and Ears of the Fans”: Journalism, Joy, and the Irrepressible Jane Scott

“And that’s a marvelous feeling. . . We’re all one when it comes to rock, because we love it, and we love it together. It just hit me that time when we were singing ‘Black Water’ — people with their arms around each other, just singing together with the people onstage. That’s what rock does for you.” –Jane Scott

“Jane Scott was important. She didn’t critique music. She reported facts. And, subversively, she demystified the art.” – David Scott (Pere Ubu)

Jane in 1960, covering a younger member of Cleveland society. (Photo: Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection)

Eventually, she’d go to all the shows – an estimated 10,000 — by anyone and everyone, from open mic nights to Live Aid. David Bowie would personally leave a pass for her whenever he came through town. But Jane Scott missed the one that started it all by three days.

Later, she’d say it was due to greed: Alan Freed’s Moondog Coronation Ball was on a Friday, March 21, 1952. She’d waited until the following Monday to start her new position with the Cleveland Plain Dealer so that her boss could sneak an extra $5 per week onto her $45 weekly salary in his boss’s absence.  “Think of the firsthand stories I’d still be writing about that night,” she’d say years later.

Jane was born May 3, 1919 in Cleveland and grew up west of the city in Lakewood and Russell Township. After graduation in 1937 from Lakewood High School, she headed to the University of Michigan, where she was a staff member for the school paper, The Michigan Daily. She received her B.A in English, Speech and Drama in 1941, but never would use the teacher’s certificate she also earned. The following year, she went to work for the Cleveland Press as a secretary in the advertising department.

That didn’t last long: later that year she enlisted in the Navy as one of Cleveland’s first WAVEs, where she rose to the rank of lieutenant as a codebreaker, or as she termed it, “a glorified typist.” After the war, she went to business school for typing and shorthand, and in 1947 joined the staff of a startup paper called the Chagrin Valley Herald as the women’s editor. For five years she juggled that with  stringing for the Plain Dealer until that $45 (then $50 per week) job opened up.

In truth, she wouldn’t have covered the Moondog Ball anyway, although a “real” reporter likely showed up for the infamous riot. Jane’s beat was the society page. Two years later, she landed the “Senior Class” column, geared to the retirement crowd, a post she’d hold for 20 years, even after rock writing became the focus of her career. In 1958, she took on the weekly “Boy and Girl” children’s column, which eventually morphed into “Teen Time.” As her co-workers put it, she covered “pimples to pensions.”

Thousands of girls wanted to be her at this moment. (Photo: Ron Swede, from the Jane Scott collection)

It was through that teen column that she found her calling, or it found her. In September of 1964, her editor gave her an assignment that no one else wanted: covering a show at Public Auditorium by a shaggy-haired English quartet from Liverpool. The classical columnist wrote the actual review (he hated it, of course); she was there for the human interest.

And she found it. “I never before saw thousands of 14-year-old girls, all screaming and yelling…I realized this was a phenomenon…the whole world changed,” she said years later.

Her friend Anastasia Pantsios, her longtime colleague at the Plain Dealer, said of it: “She was allowed to take the rock beat because [people at the paper] thought it was trivial at the time, and a woman could have it. Most of the papers at that time would have sent a columnist, who would have made fun of it and the screaming girls.”

But Jane was mesmerized, and she knew that her readership was too. She may have been 46 but this “teen music” clicked for her like nothing else had before. She dropped the school news from her column and devoted it to the performers that kids were hearing on WIXY and WHK: As the teen writer, she could do it without objection from higher-ups at the paper. In the process, she made history: one of the few rock writers in the country, one of a tiny number of women, and the first — man or woman — to write for a major paper. When the Beatles returned to play Municipal Stadium two years later, she was the only woman at the closed interview session. Even Brian Epstein had trouble getting past security.

One of Jane’s “Teen Time” columns from the mid-60s. The “Benny” mentioned at the top of the third column? Benny Orzechowski, a fellow Westsider who grew up to be Ben Orr of the Cars. (Photo: Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Over the years that followed, Jane became a fixture at Cleveland concert venues, unmistakable with her signature blond pageboy, oversized red trifocals and her car keys, pass, and ticket pinned to her blouse. She always toted her “security kit,” an oversized bag filled with safety pins, two notebooks (one for the interview and one for notes on the crowd), and at least four pens (“because people borrow them and don’t return them”). A true concert veteran, she also carried Kleenex for the inevitable shortage of TP in the ladies’ room, ear plugs, and a peanut butter sandwich (“because peanut butter doesn’t spoil easily and sometimes you don’t have time to stand in line for food.”). Sometimes she’d bring photocopied notes on that night’s act, offering extras to her fellow journalists.

With Bowie in the 70s
And in 1991 (Photo: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

She got to be on a first-name basis with rock royalty. The stories are legendary: She went with Jimi Hendrix when he bought a blue Corvette at Blaushild Chevrolet on Chagrin Boulevard for $8000. Jim Morrison invited her to have a beer with him before their 1967 Public Auditorium show (a Christian Scientist and a professional, she assuredly turned him down). She sang “California Girls” in a hotel lobby with Brian Wilson. When Bowie saw her from the stage at a performance of “The Elephant Man,” he sent an assistant to bring her backstage for a private dinner.

The things that made her special, that made her the darling of artists and fans alike and got her into places other journalists never saw, were her boundless curiosity and open-mindedness. Even the famously cranky Lou Reed was unabashed in his affection for her, describing her as a “very smart, guileless lady who loved music and musicians and had unbiased attitudes toward the evolving culture.”

With 2020 Hall of Famer Marc Bolan in 1972

Artists appreciated her appreciation for them, addressing her as “Ma’am”; respecting her as what the Plain Dealer’s John Petkovic called “the cool aunt or mom who accepted people as they are.” It also helped that she’d often find their parent’s contact info and chat them up for a scoop on their famous offspring—they knew she had the real dirt. 

Maximum Cleveland: Michael Stanley being interviewed by Jane Scott, in a photo by Janet Macoska

She valued the personal connection, and not just as a story tactic. Remembers the Plain Dealer’s longtime rock writer John Soeder, “Jane was ego-less. She wanted to hear about you, and she treated everyone with respect. Everybody had a story that made her want to whip out her notebook.” During a 1998 joint interview, Joel dutifully answered Soeder’s questions about classical composition, but came to life when Jane leaned in and asked him about his daughter Alexa. Cleveland legend Michael Stanley said, “You always felt you were extremely important when you were talking to Jane.”

But Jane had no illusions about the real nature of these relationships and the business she was in. As she put it to writer Alana Baranick, “These people are not my friends. They’re using me for publicity, just as I am using them to get a story.”

Her ability to get backstage, onto tour buses, and wherever else she wanted to go flummoxed even industry pros. According to promoter Jules Belkin, he could never keep her away: She’d just materialize. Of course, most of the security crews knew who she was and were more starstruck over her than the artist they were paid to keep under wraps. And if charm and reputation didn’t work, she wasn’t above using her age to get to where the story was. She was once seen waving her arms wildly while trying to get past a resistant security guard. Finally, she just shoved him aside and went on past. What was he going to do, fight a defenseless old lady?

While personally conservative, she almost never judged, only recorded. She was unfazed by things like a haze of pot smoke or Rod Stewart’s publicist’s girlfriend cavorting topless in the background during an interview.

But there were a few exceptions. Unimpressed by the Beastie Boys’ liberal dropping of the F-bomb, she dismissed them in print as “crude and lewd without a redeeming social value in sight.” When Elvis Costello was rude to her, she simply devoted more column inches to his opening act, Eddie Money.

Jane was sometimes dismissed by rock cognoscenti (who no doubt came on the scene well after she did) as a glorified fan who “never met an artist she didn’t like.” But she would’ve been the first one to assert that she wasn’t a critic; she was a reporter. She saw it as her job to bring be “the eyes and ears of the fans,” who hadn’t the means to see all the concerts, let alone meet their heroes. She sought out the faces in the crowd and included their thoughts in her column. “If you want to write for yourself, go write a diary,” she said. “There’s something interesting at every concert, even if it’s not my style.”

Her style was, like her, wide-ranging and unpretentious. She was hip enough to appreciate Frank Zappa and Pere Ubu, as well as the Doobies’ “Black Water.” She even liked progressive…mostly. She liked Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” but once described being backstage at an ELP show and falling asleep for eight minutes during an “interminable” song, only to wake up and find them still playing it. She loved all the Beatles, and to the question “Which one to take home?” her puckish answer was “John. I told you he was the mature one.” She’d no doubt approve of the Rock Hall’s inclusive definition of the genre: “It’s the excitement of rock ‘n’ roll that keeps me going…(the) unexpectedness and the swift changes. You go from pop to hip-hop. And it all melds into rock somehow.”

She had a reporter’s instincts and an ear for trends. She wasn’t an essayist on the level of a Robert Christgau or Ellen Willis; her famous opening interview gambits were “What high school did you go to?” and “What’s your favorite color?” But she had a flair for description and detail, shown in her famous 1975 piece on an up-and-coming artist from New Jersey, two months before he appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week:

“He looked like a cross between a dock hand and a pirate. He stood on the darkened Allen Theater stage last night in a black greaser jacket, blue jeans, a gray wool cap pulled over an eye and a gold earring in his left ear. Only a pianist played as he began singing about slums and switchblades in his ‘Incident on 57th St.’ His name is Bruce Springsteen. He will be the next superstar.”

Covering a rainy show in 1967. (Photo: James A. Hatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer)

As with many glamourous jobs, Jane’s meant a lot of hard work behind the scenes. She was often in the office at 3 a.m. to file her story after a show. For years, she spent every Saturday downtown at the WEWS TV-5 studios for the taping of Cleveland’s seminal pop performance show “Upbeat,” where she got one last interview with Otis Redding the day before his death. Michael Heaton, for 30 years the Plain Dealer’s “Minister of Culture,” said of her: “Jane gets the joke about herself. The standard take…is that nobody’s home. But forget the kooky image and all that “world’s oldest teenager” bullshit. She’s sharp as a tack and the hardest-working reporter I’ve ever met. The woman will not be denied.”

Over the years, she’d become a local celebrity; artists looked for her when they came to town. When they talked to other journalists, they’d ask about her. She often found herself the one mobbed by fans when she showed up at the clubs and arenas. She graced the covers of local publications including Cleveland magazine. But it never went to her head.

But after a time, all this wasn’t enough for the Plain Dealer. In 1987, after 35 years, they told her they were looking for new rock writers and that maybe she “could cover gardening.” Stung, she said she could see their point of view but wrote them a letter to make a case for her ability to “help out.” Her co-workers rallied to her defense, with 126 of them signing a petition to keep her. The story made the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and then broke in People magazine and on MTV, Entertainment Tonight, and Art Linkletter. The shaming worked. Jane stayed.

She kept at it for 15 more years, sometimes going to two or three shows a week for her new “Backstage Pass” column. She’d said that “retirement” was a word she didn’t understand, but in 2002, just shy of 50 years with the paper and her 83rd birthday, she decided it was time. She settled into a quiet but still social life at the Ennis Court assisted living facility in Lakewood. When school choirs would come to sing for the residents, she’d interview them, and if given a notebook, take notes.

Of course, she didn’t stop going to shows. And of course, everyone remembered her, including the Boss, who welcomed her backstage for a private chat before a show in 2005. In one post-retirement photo she’s right up next to the stage with her walker, beaming joyfully at an equally delighted Joan Jett. She’d been wrong: they were her friends.

Jane Scott died on July 4, 2011 at age 92 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Her public memorial was held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, and she was buried, surprisingly, at Washtenong Cemetery in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She’s survived by a nephew, two nieces, and several grandnieces and nephews. Never married, Jane did say that she’d had a fiancé “but lost him to the war.” When asked which one, she replied “Civil.”

Michael Stanley meets Jane again. (Photo: Janet Macoska)

Her extended family was on hand the following year when a life-sized sculpture of her was unveiled at the Museum. Appropriately, it depicts her sitting with pen poised over notebook, ankles demurely crossed, wearing her trademark red glasses and with a big smile. Originally at home in the lower lobby under the CBGB’s awning, it’s since been moved to the Hall’s Library and Archives. Fitting, perhaps, but now it’s only visible to those who likely already know about her, when everyone should see it and learn her story. It’s not like there’s a shortage of space. The Hall did mark the centennial of her birth with a reception and panel discussion featuring a few of her friends, colleagues, and writers whom she inspired.

That same year, the Archives acquired Jane’s personal papers and memorabilia. Among the rarities is her notebook from her first Beatles interview, signed by  John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and a handwritten set list for a 1999 Springsteen show. Together, the 70 boxes of rock and roll treasure make up one of the five largest collections in the Archives’ holdings. Everything bears tangible witness to a career that as noted writer Holly Gleason put it, “…captured the essence of rock coming of age, growing into maturity and finding its way into the 21st century.”

Music, and the music business, have changed almost beyond comprehension in the almost 10 years since Jane left us. But if she were here, she’d be along for the ride, notebook in hand and ready to experience it all. She deserves a permanent place among the artists and music she loved and and shared with her readers for half a century. The next time the ceremony is in Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs to induct and pay tribute to Jane Scott. It’s time.

Doubling Down: Thoughts on the Rock Hall Class of 2020

Wednesday morning, three months to the day after announcing the ballot, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame revealed the inductees for its class of 2020: Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, Notorious B.I.G., and T. Rex.

It’s been an odd year, with a ballot that somehow was so much less than the some of its parts. So it wasn’t to be expected that the class could improve on that. And it didn’t.

But it did pack a few, if not surprises, interesting points. First up, of course, the fan vote. We saw the omission of not just the Dave Matthews Band, who’ve now secured a place in rock history as the first winner to be shut out, but ALL BUT ONE of the top five. The top two didn’t make it. Take that, fans.

I was actually willing to double down on my prediction that DMB’s victory would get them over. A big part of that was forgetting what I learned from the Who Cares About the Rock Hall podcast about Depeche Mode’s ability to sell tickets.

Lord knows I’m not a fan of the swing to populism, but I’d accepted that induction for all the previous winners was the Hall’s way to dodge charges of elitism. Places 2-5 didn’t matter, but the winner was the token. It got bands in like Journey and Kiss who’d never gotten critical love. It was a bit of a deal with the devil, but when fans and performers alike complained that the public had no say, the Hall could point to that without ever stating outright that it was policy. Just ambiguous enough, and not dependent on votes. People kept saying DMB didn’t have the votes and I wondered why they thought that mattered. The Hall probably has more fiats than a Milanese car dealership.

The Hall wants eyeballs on its site to keep Klipsch happy, a sense of drama for the media outlets to pick up on (good or bad, doesn’t matter) and fan involvement, likely in that order, and it was a neat way to accomplish it all.

Even if the Hall doesn’t care much for good will, I didn’t think it would stomp all over what it got from the vote, what with turnstiles to keep turning at the Museum. Nope, they stomped. Stomped it real good. Clearly they’re doubling down on their core principle: they have the game ball, so we’ll all fall in line. All the DMB fans who are confused and angry now will be back next time. We’ll all forgive and forget, because we all want to root for something, to see our heroes honored and bask in the reflected glory. Don’t forget, three of the fan vote’s top seven made it.

So now the cat’s out of the proverbial bag. The winning act has racked up 1 million votes for nothing, and it’ll be fascinating to see what the vote totals look like next time around…if indeed there’s a fan vote as we know it.

In the biggest instance of doubling down, the ballot had all of three women, one of whom is deceased. This in spite of being taken to task in the media for the second straight season and called out from the stage earlier this year by their own inductee. I wish I could say it was a surprise. And of those three, only one makes it, and she can’t vote. You think back to 2018 and you just have to shake your head. Pat Benatar, who came in second place in the fan vote, led it for the first two weeks, and was thought to be a lock by most Hall watchers, didn’t make the cut. A huge and unpleasant surprise.

But is it really? There was noticeable apathy – and in some cases antipathy- to Benatar from the voters that Joe and Kristin spoke to on “Who Cares..,”, including Amy Linden and Edna Gunderson. I never saw ecstatic endorsements in the media leading up to the announcement, either. Whether we think it’s accurate or not (I don’t), maybe Steve Erlewine summed up how she’s perceived in the industry: “A workaday rocker who had a good moment.” Now, the Doobie Brothers, hey, they’re innovators who moved the needle on rock and pop as we know it today.

The Hall is trying to tell us that having three women — the same number as last year — is some kind of breakthrough. It wants us to believe that the process is based solely on merit, and the fact that women make up only 7.7% of the inductee rolls is an accurate representation of the quality of their contributions to modern popular music. Breathtaking.

This ish isn’t going to stop. It’s not going to because as things currently stand, there’s no incentive for it to. There’s no penalty, no consequence for it, and that’s what a meaningful change is going to take. Right now there’s nothing to impact the bottom line and grab the old boys by the…attention span.

The Hall knows this. Again, game ball. It calls the shots, and it knows we, the general public, have no real power. There isn’t a sponsor structure that we can lean on. We aren’t a cohesive unit who’ll get on board with any sort of boycott of either the ceremony or the museum. Steve Miller said something about it in 2016 but by that point he’d cemented his “crazy grandpa” status and helped make his own induction a sideshow. Other nominees (or potential ones) haven’t made it a talking point, including Benatar and Khan that I’m aware of.

Inductees can’t be expected to boycott their big night, but could they make a statement? Could a campaign convince them to? Not likely. Would it have any effect if artists refused to make appearances at the museum? To not do book signings, jam in The Garage or take the tours and do the grip-and-grins that the Hall loves to post on social media? Would an “open letter to the Board” statement from living inductees have an effect? Not much. What about the bands that play the Plaza for the summer concert series? Even if it meant anything, is it fair to ask them to forego a check and the exposure? No.

A neat and easy way for the Hall to make even symbolic amends would be to use its power to award one of its discretionary awards — the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Musical Excellence or the Early Influence or Musical Excellence categories to a deserving woman or women. Like the Performer Category, there’s no shortage. Instead, it doubles down and presents two old white men from its own board of directors (Jon Landau and Irving Azoff, manager of the aforementioned Doobie Brothers) with the Ertegun award. Again, just breathtaking.

Maybe this is the old boys’ last hurrah before the new guy comes in and makes them be all like, inclusive and stuff, but how many changes can we realistically expect, and how long will they take? And even though he’s a guy, how much pushback will he get?

(And off topic, but did y’all notice in the statement the Grammys made about the outster of CEO Deborah Dugan that she’d been put on leave because “a formal allegation of misconduct [was made against her] by a senior female [staff] member?” (Italics mine). Nope, we’re not saying anything because we’re dudes; see, we found a woman to do it. The Academy says she’s a bully; she says she found corporate misconduct. But wonder of wonders, she has gotten advertiser support).

And as predicted by just about everybody, the hard rock/heavy metal acts canceled each other out and come up empty again. It’s hard to disagree with Eric and Mary of the Hall Watchers podcast that this was on purpose. The Hall views the nomination as the award. Next year belongs to the Foos, and the Hall could very well go with Iron Maiden if they opt to try this again, so unfortunately Judas Priest may be on the shelf for a while. A crime, as are the omissions, again, of Kraftwerk and in my eyes, Todd Rundgren.

So now we await the announcement of who the presenters and tribute performers will be. And beyond that, the direction the Hall takes as the new era begins. The Hall promises changes to this year’s ceremony, and those may give us some clues to its priorities going forward. One thing’s for sure: Change is needed on a massive scale; the system is beyond broken. John Sykes has a big job ahead.