Why is the Rock Hall in Cleveland?

by | Oct 18, 2017 | Arts & Culture, Events & Festivals

Music Box owner Mike Miller (L) interviews Rock Hall’s Greg Harris

When peple think about music towns, they think of the big, obvious ones (New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Nashville, and Memphis jump to mind as powerhouse music towns) so it was interesting to hear Greg Harris, the Rock Hall’s CEO, share his thoughts on how the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ended up in Cleveland. Greg was part of the fabulous on-going series at the Music Box Supper Club called Cleveland Stories Dinner Parties (listen to fascinating speakers while enjoying your dinner/drinks – free with dinner but they sell out fast so reserve on-line).
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was created in the early 1980’s in New York City by Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records. It had no physical building and so being inducted into the “Rock Hall” was like receiving an Oscar. You were handed a statue, and your name was added to the list of inductees. there was no “place.” Then the Rock Hall board decided there should be, created a search committee, and began asking interested cities for proposals.
When the board of the Rock Hall tossed a USA Today poll into the mix to see which city Americans believed should be home to the Rock Hall, they didn’t anticipated the enthusiasm of Clevelanders (whipped into a frenzy by local radio station powerhouse WMMS) to blow the phones off the hook with calls into the 900# to vote for our town. Rumor has it that Cleveland businessman George Gund helped to fund robocalls to insure Cleveland came in on top of the polls. Not sure how much that cost him, but our city ended up with a museum that adds $100M to the local economy every year. Not a bad ballot stuffing investment!
Here’s Greg’s take on why our city landed one of the most visited museums in the country with visitors from all 50 states and dozens of countries each year.

  1.  Local DJ Alan Freed wasn’t the first to use the term ‘rock n’ roll,’ but he popularized it and made it mainstream.
  2. You can’t underestimate the influence of Cleveland radio station WMMS in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It is legendary and was one of the most progressive stations at the time. It brought little known artists (David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, etc.) into public light, had a 50,000 watt listenership and was voted best radio station in the country for almost a decade (another contraversial ballot stuffing measure it is rumoured).
  3. The Agora concert venue was consistently booking bands like Springstreen, U2, etc. before they were known acts nationally.
  4. Jules and Mike Belkin created a concert production company (think Live Nation 40 years ago) and put Cleveland on the map for touring bands.
  5. In the end, the public-private partnership created by then Mayor George Voinovich and the local business community closed the deal by raising the $65M the musuem’s board said it needed to make it happen (was more like $100M by the time it was done).

And, Cleveland has come a long way in impressing hard to impressNew Yorkers. We can REALLY host a first class event in our town. After only having a scant few of the actual induction ceremonies in Cleveland, the board agreed that beginning in 2018 the ceremonies will be in Cleveland every other year (alternating with New York), which brings the A-Listers of the music world to our city!
Music is like a resevoir of memories. One or two notes of a favorite song from your high school years, and you are transported back to that carefree time in your life when your biggest worries were finding a date to prom. It’s a universal art form that needs no translation. And that is why when you walk into the Rock Hall, you typcally hear a half dozen languages being spoken all around you as rock n’ roll enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to the mother ship in Cleveland.
And, by the way, only 5 new acts/artists are inducted each year. Roughly 15-20 musicians/bands are on the ballot that is sent to more than 900 musci critics, past inductees, music historians and industry executives. The public vote was added recently which allows for some input from the fans. For more info on the nomination & induction process click here.
Every day EA staff members hear questions like this one from the job candidates and new hires we are introducing to NE Ohio. If you have a tough question from a recruit you’d like us to help you answer, call us at 216.231.9311.