The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Woman Problem

Written by Music

This is the first in a series of articles about the various problems the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has with its nomination and election processes. Focusing on the last decade of induction classes (but occasionally going back further), I’ll be documenting the four things the Hall of Fame electors keep exposing: An overall problem with Women; a problem with UK under-representation; a problem with California over-representation; and, an inability to move on from older acts to newer ones. A fifth article will address ways in which these problems can be dealt with so the Hall of Fame can properly represent the true scope and depth of this genre.

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In the last ten years, there have been 57 acts inducted into the main roster of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHoF). Here are all of the female-oriented acts among those 57:

2010 – ABBA ( 2 of 4 members)
2011 – Darlene Love
2012 – Laura Nyro
2013 – Heart (2 of 6 members) and Donna Summer
2014 – Linda Ronstadt
2015 – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1 of 5 members)
2016 – NONE
2017 – Joan Baez
2018 – Nina Simone
2019 – Janet Jackson & Stevie Nicks

That’s eleven acts total. (Counting the sex of all the band members inducted, that actually works out to 10.03 acts.) While it is almost understandable that less than 20% of the acts that made it in were female (almost all forms of music that fit under the “rock & roll umbrella” have been dominated by men through the years), take a look at how many years it took after each of these acts were eligible for inclusion for them to finally be elected (one is eligible for induction 25 years after their recorded debut):

2010 – ABBA (10 years)
2011 – Darlene Love (26 years)
2012 – Laura Nyro (19 years)
2013 – Heart (12 years)
2013 – Donna Summer (13 years)
2014 – Linda Ronstadt (19 years)
2015 – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (9 years)
2016 – NONE
2017 – Joan Baez (41 years)
2018 – Nina Simone (43 years)
2019 – Janet Jackson (11 years)
2019 – Stevie Nicks (12 years)

Only Joan Jett was able to get in less than a decade after becoming eligible. On the other side of things, both Joan Baez and Nina Simone were eligible from the very first RRHoF class in 1986–yet the years they were inducted were also the first times they were actually nominated. This means in the last five RRHoF induction classes, only four women got in, two of them were a folk singer and a jazz singer who technically had been eligible for 40 years but weren’t previously considered to be “rock & roll”, and one (Nicks) was someone who had already been previously inducted within a band being re-inducted for her solo career.

Meanwhile, over the same previous ten years, Nirvana, Guns ‘N Roses, Green Day and Tupac Shakur were elected in their first year of eligibility, Radiohead in their second, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their third.

This is not a case of there not being a big enough pool of female acts for RRHoF voters to nominate and elect. The following sixteen female acts, for instance, were also eligible last year. A number of them have been eligible for many years with hardly a nomination among them:
Tori Amos
The Bangles
Bjork
Mary J. Blige
Kate Bush
Sheryl Crow
The Go-Gos
Emmylou Harris
PJ Harvey
Grace Jones
Chaka Kahn (and Rufus)
k.d. lang
Salt n Pepa
Liz Phair
Carly Simon
Lucinda Williams

And then there are at least these five eligible bands led by women or with super-significant female members also shut out to date:
Hole
Pixies
Sade
Smashing Pumpkins
Sonic Youth

While there may be debate about the level of worthiness of the twenty-one acts that I have just listed, can you really say ALL of them were less worthy of inclusion than this year’s inductees Def Leppard, Roxy Music, and the Zombies? Or last year’s Bon Jovi, The Cars, and The Moody Blues?

Whoever are the individuals putting together nominating lists for the induction classes, it still appears being a female artist-even in 2019-is something that needs to be “overcome” by the voting body, whereas the masculine continues to be treated as a “normal” state in defining what “rock” is. Notice that even among the eleven acts in the last decade that have entered, only Heart and Jett play what traditionally could be called rock music. Of the other nine, only Laura Nyro and Stevie Nicks are usually seen as songwriters, while only Nyro, Joan Baez, and Nina Simone are known for playing instruments. The rest are singers, and singers alone.

Going back further, you’ll find the vast majority of female acts that have gotten in tend to be girl groups, or mixed-sex groups in which the female(s) usually take a singing-only role. The only women that both play and compose who get in are usually some undeniable force of nature (Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith) that simply HAS to be in the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile eight members of Deep Purple were elected in 2016, and ten members of The Cure are on their plaque this year. Those two acts combined contain five more men (18) than the total number of women (13) who have gotten in during the last DECADE.

The fact is, simply put, whether measuring “worthiness” for RRHoF induction by sales and chart numbers, quality of music, or influence on other acts, there are a number of female acts which deserve priority over yet another 1970s-era stadium band “finally” getting in every single year….But we’ll get to that in a future article.