“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to talk about life in the places they represent, from the high-profile events to the fun facts only the locals know. Let us know what’s great about your district!
Rock ’n’ roll wasn’t invented in Cleveland, but the city can lay claim to launching the genre’s national acceptance. That’s thanks to pioneering disc jockey Alan Freed, who in the ’50s gave rock its first exposure at a major urban radio station, WJW, and staged what many consider the first ever rock ’n’ roll concert in the city on the shores of Lake Erie.
Fast forward to 1986, when the recently founded Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was looking for a permanent home. Cleveland officials bid aggressively and won. The I.M. Pei-designed museum, which sits alongside Lake Erie, opened in 1995 with a star-studded concert that included the likes of James Brown, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin and Johnny Cash.
The museum, which now has more than 350 inductees, has become a must-visit destination for music fans from around the world. All those visitors add up to a significant economic impact for Cleveland and Ohio. The Hall of Fame reported in 2018 that the museum had a total impact of $199 million in business sales in Cuyahoga County and that visitors in 2017 spent an estimated $127.4 million on-site and at other businesses in the county. In all, visitors generated nearly $13.4 million in state and local tax revenues.
Induction ceremonies, which are held annually, are presented in Cleveland periodically. But the 2022 class of inductees—which ranges from Judas Priest to Dolly Parton, Eminem to Eurythmics and more—will be celebrated this year with a ceremony and concert on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles. It will be broadcast by HBO.
We spoke with Sen. Dale Martin (D) and Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D), whose districts include the Hall of Fame, about the museum and other Cleveland attractions.
Did you grow up near the Hall of Fame? Do you remember its construction or opening concert?
Upchurch: Wow, time sure flies. I don’t remember much about the opening concert. However, I can remember my family being excited about going to the Hall for the first time.
Martin: I grew up about 15 minutes away in the Hough neighborhood. I didn’t work on the construction project, but I did work for Cleveland Public Power, and it was our job to make sure, if anything went wrong with the power over there, to get it back running again.
Are you a big music fan? What music did you listen to growing up?
Martin: I grew up listening to jazz, R&B, soft rock, a little bit of everything. I love Miles Davis (a 2006 inductee), Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson. I love Motown (founder Berry Gordy is a 1988 inductee) and, of course, The O’Jays (2005 inductees, who hailed from nearby Canton, Ohio). I also like the Temptations (1989 inductees), Four Tops (1990 inductees) and the Supremes (1988 inductees).
Upchurch: I’m a huge music fan; right now it’s hard for me to point to specifically one genre over another. I do admit, as I get older, I grow an appreciation for soul music.
Do you have a favorite musician or band?
Upchurch: That’s also a tough one. Not sure I have a favorite band. However, my favorite musician would probably be Jay-Z (2021 inductee).
Martin: I would say Marvin Gaye (1987 inductee), because he was a great musician and he also told stories about life. And Stevie Wonder (1989 inductee) as well.
Do you play an instrument or sing?
Martin: Growing up, my whole family sang. My cousin Arnold McCuller, who grew up here, has been a backup singer for James Taylor (2000 inductee) for nearly 30 years. (McCuller has also sung with Hall of Famers Linda Ronstadt (2014 inductee), Phil Collins (2010 inductee) and Bonnie Raitt (2000 inductee). My mom is a great singer, but her mother would not let her go out on a tour because she thought jazz was the devil’s music. Me, I can hum a little and carry a tune, but my family’s always dissing me about my singing.
Upchurch: I did play the saxophone in grade school for about two years. I never played in a band, but I have always wanted to learn how to play the piano.
Have you been to the Hall of Fame often over the years? What’s your favorite part?
Upchurch: First time I went I had to be about 9 years old. I remember going with my grandparents. My favorite part would have to be the hip-hop exhibit; I would recommend that everyone look at this part of the Hall.
Martin: I’ve been there probably six or seven times over the years, brought my children there to learn about music. My favorite thing about the museum is that you listen to music from different times throughout the years. It’s music that a lot of people might not know about that explains the times when it was made. For example, the exhibit “Cities and Sounds” features music from cities such as Memphis, Detroit, San Francisco, as well as genres such as soul.
The Hall of Fame notes that musicians have long been a voice for change and social justice, and that it seeks to “foster a diverse and equitable museum.” How have you seen music bring people together?
Martin: Music gives people something in common, no matter where you are from, no matter what you look like. It makes you forget about all that and reminds us of the humanity of all of us. It brings people together like nothing else.
Upchurch: Absolutely, I have seen music bring people together every day and it continues. Music without a doubt can be that tool for social justice and change.
How would you describe the impact of the Hall of Fame on the city?
Upchurch: The hall has been without a doubt one of the largest economic drivers in the city, bringing in millions of dollars for the region.
Martin: The Hall of Fame gives us our due in the history of rock ’n’ roll. A lot of great musicians come from Cleveland and Ohio. And Alan Freed (1986 inductee), he got his start here. So the Hall gives people a great destination to come to check out the music history and the city of Cleveland.
What else can tourists do in Cleveland after they’ve seen the Hall of Fame?
Martin: There’s all kinds of food and things to do in The Flats neighborhood—restaurants, comedy, the Cleveland Aquarium—and there a lot of clubs in West Sixth. Depending on what time of year you’re here, you can see the Cavaliers, Guardians or Browns play a game. And then you can go to the Cleveland Museum of Art. And right out behind the Hall of Fame, on a nice night, you can take a boat cruise on the lake.
Upchurch: After you have had a chance to visit the Hall, I would encourage you to swing down to University Circle and check out some of our wonderful museums, and the Botanical Garden and Cleveland History Center. Then go grab dinner at The Standard right in the heart of my district.
Joe Rassenfoss is a Denver-based freelance writer.
The responses have been edited for length and clarity.