Bon Jovi and Nina Simone’s inductions were among the night’s highlights.
It’s not every Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction when the night’s biggest name opens the show.
But that was the case Saturday night at the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium, when Bon Jovi, the legendary rock ‘n’ rollers and the ceremony’s unofficial headliners, were the first band to take the stage, with Howard Stern on hand to introduce them.
The Cars, Nina Simone, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Sister Rosetta Tharpe joined Bon Jovi as the Rock Hall’s 2018 induction class, many of whom gathered in Cleveland to speak and perform for the crowd, with the taped ceremony airing May 5 on HBO.
From the Bon Jovi reunion to Lauryn Hill and the Roots’ powerhouse Nina Simone tribute, here are the ceremony’s most notable moments.
Bon Jovi members Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan and Tico Torres reunited with former bandmates Richie Sambora and Alec John Such to celebrate the group’s induction into the Rock Hall, with their opening set proving to be a tough act to follow for the rest of the night.
Howard Stern introduced the group with an irreverent speech, roasting Jon Bon Jovi’s hair and Richie Sambora’s romantic prowess in between genuine moments of appreciation.
“Aside from the incredible music accomplishments, they are some of the nicest men I ever met, humble and gracious,” he said. “Whenever I would see them over the years, even with multi-platinum success, they each had a smile on their face in a welcoming way, (and an) appreciation for their craft and their fans.”
Addressing the crowd, Sambora got existential as he thanked his fans and bandmates.
“Songs are very profound in a way, because you’re connecting with humanity,” he said. “Everybody’s more alike than they are (different), and especially now in today’s world, that’s really important.”
Meanwhile, Jon Bon Jovi’s speech stretched past the 15-minute mark, as he revisited the band’s career milestones while celebrating their hard-won Rock Hall induction.
“I’ve been writing this speech since I first strummed a broom and sang at the top of the stairs of my childhood home,” he said. “I’ve actually written it many ways, many times. Some days I write a thank you speech and other days, I write an (expletive)-you speech.”
The night’s best musical tribute came from Lauryn Hill, Andra Day and the Roots, who gathered to perform the songs of Nina Simone.
The Roots served as the set’s backing band as Andra Day sang Simone’s I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ song I Put a Spell on You, which Simone famously covered.
The set’s highlight was a surprise appearance from Lauryn Hill, who delivered a sung-rapped showstopper of Simone’s tracks Ne Me Quitte Pas, Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair and Feeling Good .
Simone died in 2003, so her brother, Jon Wayman, accepted the trophy on her behalf, after Mary J. Blige gave an introductory speech remembering the “high priestess of soul.”
“I’m gonna say this to all my black young girls, if you want to be a queen you are a queen,” Wayman told the crowd, remembering his sister’s beauty and pride. “If you think you’re a king, you’re are a king. If you want to be like my sister and you have a dream, don’t let anything stop you from your quest.”
Between Journey’s reunion for last year’s Rock Hall ceremony and Saturday’s Bon Jovi performance, the Rock Hall ceremony often sees bands’ original lineups teaming back up to deliver a speech or performance to celebrate the event, even if they’d broken up previously.
That was not the case for Dire Straits on Saturday, with the group’s frontman Mark Knopfler declining to attend the event after weeks of back-and-forth drama. Knopfler never publicly commented on the Rock Hall induction or why he was skipping, while his younger brother and fellow bandmate David Knopfler also declined to attend, saying in a Facebook statement that the Rock Hall “reneged” on its promise to pay for his travel costs to Cleveland.
As if that wasn’t bleak enough, for the first time in Rock Hall induction-ceremony history, nobody took the stage to introduce the band with a speech. For reasons unclear, the job was left to Dire Straits bassist John Illsley, who took the stage with keyboardists Alan Clark and Guy Fletcher, to induct his own band into the Rock Hall.
“I know it’s a little bit odd, but it’s my honor to welcome Dire Straits into the Hall of Fame,” he said.
Needless to say, the band also did not perform.
All in all, the ceremony lacked the pizzazz of previous years. With the exception of Bon Jovi and the arena-rock anthems they cranked out onstage, the 2018 inductees were less flashy than past classes. And, notably, the ceremony didn’t end with the group jam session that has become a Rock Hall tradition, with the induction class gathering onstage to perform a well-known song from one of their ranks.
The ceremony instead ended with the Moody Blues’ induction and performance, following an introduction from Heart’s Ann Wilson. Considering the band has been eligible for Rock Hall induction since 1990 but was only nominated this year, their appearance felt particularly celebratory as they closed the show with a performance of the enduring hit Nights in White Satin.
“We’re just a bunch of British guys,” singer Justin Hayward joked, “and it’s quite hard explaining the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame over on the other side of the Atlantic.”
Yet, as charming as the British rockers were onstage, their appearance lacked the “wow” factor of some of the evening’s other blockbuster moments, from Lauryn Hill’s appearance to Bon Jovi’s set-closing Livin’ on a Prayer performance. As audience members streamed out of their seats during Moody Blues’ set, it raised questions why the Rock Hall chose to end the 2018 ceremony on a sleepier note.

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