January 23, 1986: Rock Hall Inaugural Ceremony

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Keith Richards inducting Chuck Berry at the inaugural ceremony

Keith Richards inducting Chuck Berry at the inaugural ceremony

The words “black tie” and “rock ‘n’ roll” aren’t often used in the same sentence. But On This Day on January 23, 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inaugural ceremony was held at a star-studded, black tie, rock ‘n’ roll event at NYC’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, nine years before the Hall of Fame and Museum opened its doors in Cleveland, Ohio.

Rock Hall Inaugural Induction cassette

The complementary cassette given to all attendees

For its Class of 1986, the Rock Hall Foundation, which votes on such matters, had selected musicians that had been among the most influential in the development of the genre. That initial group: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley.

Related: First generation rockers: Who’s still with us?

At each place setting, attendees at the Waldorf were given a program and a simple cassette tape featuring music representative of the evening’s inductees including Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” Presley’s “Hound Dog,” Charles’ “What’d I Say” and Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.” Until the annual events were televised, only a precious few thousand attendees were witness to some of the greatest jams ever.

Watch classic rock icons Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Jerry Lee Lewis and Neil Young, among others, perform “Roll Over Beethoven” from the inaugural ceremony

Here’s John Fogerty telling the audience “what Buddy Holly meant to me” in his induction speech.

The event’s scope has grown significantly since those early days and the opportunity to license broadcast rights and sell tickets and sponsorships are understandable for a nonprofit. Those who were involved in those early years would certainly claim that the induction ceremonies have lost their spontaneity.

Watch Berry lead a jam session at the 1986 event

The Hall, as an institution, was established in 1983 to “recognize the people who have created this music which has become the most popular music of our time.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened its doors in 1995, is a nonprofit organization that “exists to engage, teach and inspire through the power of rock ‘n’ roll. It carries out this mission through its operation of a world-class museum that collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets this art form and through its library and archives as well as its educational programs.”

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