CLEVELAND >> Bon Jovi reunited onstage with former members for a powerful performance celebrating its admission into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the late icon Nina Simone was welcomed to the prestigious music club with show-stopping performances from Lauryn Hill and Andra Day.
Bon Jovi’s portion of the four-hour-plus event ran an hour-long tonight, with Jon Boni Jovi giving a lengthy 20-minute speech onstage. He said he had been writing the speech for years.
“Some days I write the ‘Thank you’ speech, sometimes I write the ‘(Expletive) you’ speech,” he said. “In the end, it’s all about time. It took a lot of people to get us here tonight.”
Richie Sambora, who left the New Jersey band in 2013, and Alec John Such, who left in 1994, embraced their former bandmates with a hug after each one spoke onstage to accept the honor. They performed together, too, singing crowd favorites like “Livin’ on a Prayer,” ”You Give Love a Bad Name” and “It’s My Life.”
They were inducted by Howard Stern, who provided many laughs to the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, where the Rock Hall is based.
Stern joked about Rock Hall co-founder Jann Wenner, questioning why he was qualified to vote on who enters the prominent organization. Stern said the Rolling Stone magazine founder doesn’t play any instruments “but he did start a great magazine … and now it’s the size of a pamphlet.”
Simone, who died in 2003, was welcomed into the Rock Hall in a groundbreaking way from performers who she has deeply inspired, from Hill to Mary J. Blige.
Hill was exceptional, stretching her voice as wide as possible, and singing in French, in honor of Simone’s music. Hill earned a standing ovation from the audience.
Day, a Grammy-nominated R&B singer, was also extraordinary, hitting high notes that also earned her applause. Blige inducted Simone, calling the singer “bold, strong, feisty and fearless.”
“Her voice was so distinctive and powerful and I never heard anything like it,” the R&B superstar said.
Simone was a leader in pushing for civil rights and influenced everyone from Aretha Franklin to Alicia Keys. Her brother, Sam Waymon, accepted the honor on his sister’s behalf.
“They said I had three minutes, I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I’m going to take the time necessary to say what I got to say,” Waymon said.
Waymon said sharp words during his speech, including lines like, “To all the brothers out there, protect your sisters.” He said he always protected Simone, and continues to do so.
He also told the crowd, “If you’re sampling (Nina’s) music, you better pay for it!”
The 33rd annual Rock Hall ceremony kicked off with a tribute to Tom Petty, who died in October at age 66. The Killers earned a loud applause from the audience when they started performing “American Girl,” then transitioning to “Free Fallin’.”
“Pay some rock ‘n’ roll respect … to the eternal Tom Petty,” frontman Brandon Flowers said, as photos of Petty were displayed in the background.
Later in the event, Ann Wilson of Heart and Jerry Cantrell honored Chris Cornell with a commanding rendition of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” Cornell hanged himself in a Detroit hotel hours after a Soundgarden concert there last May.
The Cars and four first-time nominees, including Simone, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, make up the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class.
Rock Hall voters have recently opened their hearts to progressive rockers, which benefited “Nights in White Satin” singers The Moody Blues, the last act to be inducted today.
Wilson of Heart said the English rockers “are and have always been a kick ass rock band.”
Another English band, Dire Straits, was inducted at the event, but it was without its leader Mark Knopfler, or his brother David Knopfler. Onstage, Illsley said of Mark’s absence: “I’ll assure you it’s a personal thing. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Illsley thanked the entire band and described the group as “a collective, a brotherhood.” The band did not perform after speaking.
A flawless Brittany Howard, of the critically acclaimed rock act Alabama Shakes, gave an extraordinary Tharpe impression onstage, winning over the audience with her rousing live performance in honor of the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll. Howard was backed by an equally appealing Questlove of The Roots on the drums. Felicia Collins, best known has a member of the band on “Late Show with David Letterman,” also wowed the audience when she performed a tribute to Tharpe.
Tharpe died in 1973 and was a pioneering guitarist who performed gospel music. A video package featuring past interviews from Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin and others praising Tharpe’s musicality aired at the event. Tharpe earned the “Award for Early Influence,” while the other five acts were inducted as performers.
Flowers of the Killers, who has covered The Cars’ songs at his live shows, was ecstatic and energetic as he inducted the band into the Rock Hall, even getting on his knee to hand the members their award as they walked onstage.
The Cars, founded in Boston in 1976 and known for combining New Wave and classic rock sounds, were inducted this year after being nominated twice before. Ric Ocasek paid tribute to bandmate Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000.
“It’s quite strange to be here without him,” Ocasek said.
Elliot Easton also was emotional at the end of his speech when he thanked his mom, who he said was watching from above.
“We did it mom!,” he said, earning cheers from the audience.
Ocasek also earned applause when he namedropped Cleveland: “I lived in Cleveland for a while. It was actually the first place I played music in front of people.”
The event will air May 5 on HBO.