The city that bills itself as the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll is going through some rocky times of its own.
Cleveland’s foreclosure rates are alarmingly high, unemployment is skyrocketing, its steel mills are going idle and federal officials are investigating alleged government corruption.
A high flying rock party might be just the distraction this troubled city needs.
On Saturday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will hold its induction ceremonies in the city where it is based for the first time in more than a decade. A week’s worth of events are leading up to the induction of heavy metal band Metallica, rap pioneers Run-DMC, soul singer Bobby Womack, guitarist and former Yardbirds member Jeff Beck and rhythm and blues doo-wop group Little Anthony and the Imperials.
“These are difficult times and Cleveland has a chip on its shoulder,” Rock Hall Director Terry Stewart said. “The idea is to do a great job this time and everybody will say let’s do it again.”
Although the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is in Cleveland, the induction ceremony usually is held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the city where the hall’s foundation is based. The foundation tentatively has agreed to let Cleveland host the event every three years, if this year’s ceremony is successful and funding is available. The last time Cleveland hosted the ceremony was in 1997.
The tab for this year’s ceremony is an estimated $5 million, with most of the money coming from Cleveland, civic organizations and sponsors.
The city is putting on the glitz to make sure it will be ready when the spotlight hits it this weekend. Already, $500,000 has been spent to spruce up downtown’s 87-year-old Public Hall, the site of the ceremony. Cleveland is also making a greater effort to clean downtown streets of litter and debris, remove graffiti and fix sidewalks around Public Hall, Public Service Director Jomarie Wasik said.
While Cleveland has long been known as a gritty city with its share of troubles, in recent years, its problems have multiplied. It was the nation’s second most impoverished big city in 2007, according the Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey.
Its steel industry, the linchpin of its economy for decades, is in freefall. Its biggest steel plant has been idle since October, when the Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal ordered a temporary shut down because of the slumping steel business. Cleveland also faces a rising tide of foreclosures, with some neighborhoods rampant with vacant homes.
In addition, a federal investigation of alleged corruption in Cleveland has focused on several key officials in the Democratic-controlled county government.
The induction ceremony will give the city a chance to temporarily set aside its troubles and remind the music world of Cleveland’s key role in the creation of rock ’n’ roll.
Early link to rock ’n’ roll
Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed in the 1950s is widely credited with popularizing the music and the term rock ’n’ roll. Legendary bands in their early years, including the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, made sure to sample that fan base with Cleveland appearances. British rock star Ian Hunter even paid homage to the city with the song “Cleveland Rocks,” which later became the theme for “The Drew Carey Show,” which had some scenes and its storyline set in Cleveland.
“There is a rich history,” said Jerome Anthony Gourdine, better known as Little Anthony, part of this year’s induction class (others include Wanda Jackson, Bill Black, DJ Fontana and Spooner Oldham.)
Gourdine says his group always considered Cleveland a key city in which to perform.
“I can’t think of a better place than Cleveland,” he said of the induction ceremony. “You talk about Cleveland rocks? Whoa! The stuff I’m hearing that’s going on ... Man!”
Stewart regularly hears criticism of an out-of-town induction ceremony, most often when he’s trying to raise money in Cleveland. Concerns increased last year, when a Rock Hall Annex opened in New York.
Stewart said the Annex was designed to display some exhibits and to make the Rock Hall generally more well known and isn’t a test to see if New York might be a better location.
Henry LoConti, 79, who in 1966 opened one of Cleveland’s more well known rock music performance nightclubs, the Agora, is among those relieved that the ceremony has returned to the city.
“It adds legitimacy to the fact that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is here,” he said.