Members of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Responds to Donna Summer’s Death and Possible Induction

Posted May 18, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in News

Members of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame respond to Donna Summer’s passing and their failure to induct her. Plus a special interview with HOF inductee Darlene Love on the Hall’s role on women

PICTURED ABOVE: Donna Summer on magazine cover of Rolling Stone, 1978

There’s no question about it: Donna Summer influenced more than disco. When she drifted into edgier territory with the innovative robotic trance of “I Feel Love” and experimented with rock on “Hot Stuff,” the Queen of Disco captured everyone’s attention, especially rock critics. She embraced the cover of Rolling Stone in 1978 and even earned a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance, Female for "Hot Stuff," becoming the first rock chick who really wasn’t a rock chick in Grammy history to earn the award.

Last year, Summer’s name was inscribed on the nomination ballot of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first round for the fourth time in the Hall’s history, but failed to make the final ballot.

Summer’s fans, including Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, are no longer biting their lips as they publicly express their displeasure towards the organization’s failure in recognize her body of work, days after learning of Donna Summer’s death on Thursday.

“Her records sound as good today as they ever did,” Elton John (Class of 1994) expressed to Entertainment Weekly. “That she has never been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a total disgrace especially when I see the second-rate talent that has been inducted.”

The Wall Street Journal echoed some of Elton’s tone in an brief article published this Friday, a day after the passing of the disco diva who died of lung cancer at the age of 63, titled Why Isn’t Donna Summer in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Disco was probably too big of a dirty word for rock afficionados to swallow in the Seventies and may have provoked the radical warfare on disco-mania at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in July 1979, but Donna Summer was the mere exception – whose work influenced artists that range from Blondie to Aretha Franklin, from Madonna to Janet Jackson. Christopher John Farley, writer of the WSJ piece, said, “Dance divas don’t always get their due, but in the case of Summer they should.”

In April of this year, HiFi editor J Matthew Cobb spoke with Hall of Fame inductee Darlene Love (Class of 2011) to discuss the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s role and position on women in music. The conversation naturally drifted towards the Fame’s obvious imbalance of nominating Fame-worthy females.

Aretha made history for being the first woman inducted into the Hall of Fame. Laura Nyro is scheduled to be inducted this year. In the last couple of years, women have been dominating pop music – ranging from Adele to Katy Perry, from Beyoncé to Lady Gaga. In what has been generally labeled a male establishment, do you think the rock empire is now more open and embracing of women than before?

Darlene Love: I think I do believe that, but it’s like everything else when it comes to positioning – men and women. In every field, not just the music industry, but it seems like we have to work harder to establish ourselves in all of these businesses before they go ‘Hey, you know what, it’s a lot of women responsible for music too. It’s a lot of women – in sports, in every business you can think of – that are head of companies. But it just seems like it takes a long time to get around to thinking that we deserve exactly what the men deserve. We used to laugh when we used to call it a men’s club. People would write about the board not inducting women into the Hall of Fame and they would always say ‘this all male club.” If it wasn’t a lot of the women in music, I don’t think there would be a whole lot of diversities of music.

Do you expect more women to be inducted into the Hall of Fame?

DL: Yeah, I do. I think, you know, here it is we’re in 2012. The thing is getting nominated – that’s the hardest part. (Laughs) They would induct more women into the Hall of Fame if they were nominated. If you realize, when you see who we vote for, there’s not a lot of women on the ballot, just to nominate them. Because they have forty people that come in to do the nominating and they have five choices. Forty times five. And if they are putting more males there to nominate them than females, you’re doing good to get nominated. Now that there’s more women now like Gaga and Beyoncé – they have to be in the business for at least twenty-five or thirty years. I think there’s going to be a major fluctuation of women getting inducted in the next ten years, because now they are really dominating the charts today.

I think the first league of female pop artists that we think of that most people are petitioning to get on the ballot are people like Madonna and Donna Summer. They rightfully deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but it’s getting nominated that’s the problem. Maybe we will see more of an influx of those nominations as time passes.

DL: I hope so because it’s almost like you have to have an advocate like I had. I had Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt, people who were really advocating for me to get in. It’s almost like you have to go into these meetings and say, “Okay, now it’s time for her to get in.” (Laughs) I had a very big advocate behind me, so I can always give him the credit for being inducted into the Hall of Fame. He’s the greatest.

As a startling surprise, former Rolling Stone writer and Bruce Springsteen’s longtime producer Jon Landau just released a press statement after the passing of Donna Summer. He also happens to be the chairman of the Hall. Read a portion of what he had to say:

“There is absolutely no doubt that the extraordinary Donna Summer belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Mr. Landau wrote. “Regrettably, despite being nominated on a number of occasions, our voting group has failed to recognize her – an error I can only hope is finally and permanently rectified next year.”

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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