The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted its Class of 2017 on Friday night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Folk icon and social justice activist Joan Baez, string-augmented rock hitmakers Electric Light Orchestra, arena rock titans Journey, grunge pioneers Pearl Jam, West Coast rap god Tupac Shakur and prog-rock progenitors Yes all entered the Hall’s ranks. Additionally, disco pioneer and super producer Nile Rodgers received the Award for Musical Excellence.
There were all-star tributes to Chuck Berry, Prince and Tupac, in addition to the Rock Hall induction ceremony which will air on HBO on April 29 (8 ET/PT).
As per Rock Hall tradition, an assortment of Class of 2017 inductees — members of Pearl Jam, Journey, Yes and 2013 inductee Geddy Lee of Rush — closed the night with an all-star jam session. Instead of performing one of their songs, however, they covered Neil Young’s iconic “Rockin’ in the Free World,” a searing political anthem that feels as relevant now as ever. As the guitarists plowed away on the finale, a sweaty Eddie did a well-deserved victory lap around the stage and the night came to a close.
The festivities kicked off with an all-star tribute to Chuck Berry, recognized as the first musician the Rock Hall ever inducted.
Following a video presentation remembering Berry’s life, ELO’s Jeff Lynne took the stage minutes before his own band was inducted into the Rock Hall, honoring Berry with his own take on Roll Over Beethoven.
When Joan Baez’s folk-music peer Jackson Browne took the stage to induct the legendary protest singer into the Rock Hall, he acknowledged that the recognition was “long, long overdue.”
In a touching speech, where he admitted Baez’s was the first album he ever bought as a young music fan, Browne spoke about how her music’s dedication to social justice is still relevant in today’s political climate. “When I hear (her recordings) now, I feel a deep sadness that the songs are as needed now as then, now more than ever,” he said. “The changes that began happening in the ‘60s are still happening … we need to be as empowered now as we were then.”
Baez’s speech touched on the same political themes as Browne’s, as she spoke about her history of representing disempowered parties in both her music and her activism.
She also dedicated her speech to her granddaughter, who she said “had no idea who I was until I took her backstage at a Taylor Swift concert,” only to have the younger pop star greet her warmly. “I want my granddaughter to know I fought against an evil tide and had the masses on my side,” Baez said.
In a candid and touching remembrance for his former labelmate and close friend, Snoop Dogg tackled the duties of inducting Tupac Shakur into the Rock Hall, recalling the pair’s rise through ‘90s hip hop together in a six-minute speech.
Snoop remembered how Pac gave him his first blunt, accompanied him on an unexpected parasailing trip with rap mogul Suge Knight, and outfitted him in a matching designer suit. Calling Shakur the “greatest rapper alive,” Snoop recalled visiting the rapper’s mother after his death, comforted by her strength.
Following his emotional speech was a stacked tribute performance. Led by Alicia Keys on piano, Snoop returned to the stage, accompanied by fellow rappers YG and T.I. to deliver a mashup of Pac’s greatest hits.
In honor of Journey’s Rock Hall induction, former frontman Steve Perry reunited with the band for the first time in 12 years.
Even though Journey’s classic vocalist Steve Perry didn’t reunite with the band during their Rock Hall performance (to the dismay of hopeful fans), he did offer up a touching speech, giving props to the R&B band he played in during high school, former bandmate Neal Schon’s magic fingers, his lawyer and more.
“You put us here, we would not be here had it not been for you,” Perry said, thanking his fans. “Your tireless love and consistent devotion, you never have stopped. But from my heart I must tell you — I’ve been gone a long time, but you’ve always been in my heart.”
And obviously, when “Don’t Stop Believin'” started, the Barclays Center lost it.
While Nile Rodgers wasn’t the most famous face to take the Barclays stage Friday, the legendary producer likely has the longest résumé, producing hits for icons including Madonna, David Bowie and Diana Ross.
After an introduction from Pharrell Williams, who collaborated with Rodgers on Daft Punk’s 2013 hit Get Lucky, Rodgers dedicated his speech to praising the many names he’s worked with over his career. As he bragged, he’s worked with a large chunk of the people in the Rock Hall already.
“When people work with me they think I’m the boss but for every record, I join their band,” he said. “I want to make every artist know I have their interest at heart. My name doesn’t mean (expletive).
“This award is really because of all the people who allowed me to come into their lives and join their band, be it Madonna, Mick Jagger, Bowie, Pharrell, Diana Ross … it just goes on and on and on,” he added.