Five decades ago, Jackie Wilson, Smokey Robinson, and other soul music legends hit the stage at Cleveland’s Leo’s Casino, known as one of the most integrated music clubs in the nation. This Saturday, a city rich in soul history recognized the music’s legacy as the new Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame inducted its first class.
Sequined dresses hit the red carpet and classics such as “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and “A Change Is Gonna Come” rang through Cleveland State University’s Waetjen Auditorium.
Twenty-two performers, personalities and institutions were inducted, including James Brown, The Supremes, and the O’Jays, as well as Leo's Casino and the Call and Post.
Inductees The Dynamic Superiors, the Dazz Band, and the Hesitations performed, along with several local R+B artists, including “Sax Man” Maurice Reedus Jr.
Several members of the Dramatics, the Ohio Players, and Martha and the Vandellas also attended to accept their induction. Founding members of the O’Jays and the Temptations accepted through video presentations. Relatives of several inductees accepted on their behalf, including Sam Cooke’s daughter, Carla Cooke, and Temptations front man David Ruffin’s wife and daughters.
Several Clevelanders have been working for a year and a half to start the Hall of Fame, including former Harlem Globetrotter Lamont “ShowBoat” Robinson, and Fred Wheatt, director of The Love Unlimited Orchestra and a former Leo's Casino house musician.
For now, the Hall of Fame doesn’t have a brick and mortar location. The board hopes to house it in Cleveland, though it’s also looking at several other cities, including Detroit and Memphis.
“R+B music was the forerunner for rock n roll, hip hop, pop, and so much more,” Wheatt says. “Many of these artists couldn’t even stay at the hotels they were playing at or use the restroom in a venue. Some went to their grave without recognition, and we have a duty to finally give them that.”
Nedra Ruffin, David Ruffin’s daughter, says she is honored that her father’s legacy is being recognized.
“My father’s music touched people’s lives during his career and continues to today,” Ruffin says. She's saddened that he is not alive to see the museum. “Although it took many years,” Ruffin says, “I feel that it all worked into a divine plan. It was the right time.”
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