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Like with most things in life, music is often the glue that holds us together. And, such is the case when uncovering African American culture here in Cleveland.
By now, you’re likely no stranger to Cleveland’s legendary status in rock ‘n’ roll history. And while the story typically begins in the 1950s with a white Cleveland radio disc jockey named Alan Freed who popularized the term “rock ‘n’ roll” by playing it on his show (which was actually just music coming out of the African American community), we know there’s more to that story.
In fact, the very core of rock ‘n’ roll music is derived from black styles of music such as blues, gospel and R&B. It is the very essence of the black experience that we have to thank for what we recognize as rock music today.
Here in Cleveland, you can take a deep-dive into rock’s important connections to so many legendary African American artists at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and by uncovering a host of Cleveland born-and-bred musicians.
Some of the greatest stars in rock are represented in the Rock Hall’s numerous and constantly evolving exhibits, and some of the most popular pieces in the museum are those costume and artifacts made famous by African American artists.
Rock ‘n’ roll owes so much to the foundational music of African American rhythm and blues artists like Big Joe Turner, as told by the “Roots of Rock & Roll” exhibit.
The “Legends of Rock” exhibit celebrates the best of every era with the most memorable artifacts of every age. Fans can see Michael Jackson’s sequined glove, James Brown’s rhinestone jumpsuit right next to the beautiful dresses worn by Diana Ross & The Supremes and Beyoncé’s one-sleeved leotard from her “Single Ladies” video.
And, an entire area of the museum is dedicated to the artistry of Jimi Hendrix, featuring his guitars, outfits he wore on stage, song lyrics and even his childhood drawings.
Being the very place where the term “rock ‘n’ roll” took off, it should be no surprise that artists from Cleveland and its surrounding areas have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The O'Jays formed in Canton, Ohio while still in high school, taking their stage name from a local disc jockey. Their biggest hits were "Love Train," "Backstabbers" and "Use ta Be My Girl." Founding member Eddie Levert's late sons Gerald and Sean, both Cleveland natives, went on to musical success of their own. The O'Jays were inducted in 2005 by pop superstar Justin Timberlake. An outfit worn by group member Walter Williams is on display inside rock’s hallowed halls.
Singer-songwriter Bobby Womack, known for the soulful numbers "Across 110th Street," "If You Think You're Lonely Now" and "That's the Way I Feel About Cha," was born and raised in Cleveland. Womack's talents stretched across genres from classical, soul, rock and even country music. He was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2009 by Rolling Stones guitarist and vocalist Ron Wood.
Many other Cleveland-born artists have made an impact on the world of music and have a chance to be inducted into the Rock Hall one day.
Screamin' Jay Hawkins was best known for his single "I Put a Spell on You,” which has been covered extensively and was named as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll by the Rock Hall. A 45 pressing of the record and Hawkins’ zebra-print cape are on display.
Tracy Chapman, best known for her songs "Fast Car" and "Give Me One Reason," is a multi-platinum artist and an outspoken human rights activist.
Local hip-hop luminaries Bone Thugs-n-Harmony shot into the stratosphere with their second album, 'E. 1999 Eternal,' largely fueled by the chart-topping "Tha Crossroads." The song spent eight weeks atop the Billboard 100 and was certified double platinum. A skull pendant from group member Krayzie Bone hangs in a display focused on Cleveland and other Midwest cities.
Learn more about the Rock Hall here.
Immerse yourself in Cleveland’s black history at ThisisCleveland.com/BlackHistory.
Alive with the passion and energy of the musical legends we celebrate. Our inductees are represented throughout seven floors of exciting exhibits,...