R&B Music Hall of Fame in Cleveland to induct first class

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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On Saturday night at the Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University, the R&B Music Hall of Fame will induct its first class.

The inductees cut a wide path through the history of R&B and encompass several eras, styles and influential figures who may never be welcomed into the rock hall. The museum is the brainchild of LaMont Robinson, aka the Clown Prince of Basketball, a former Harlem Globetrotter, owner and operator of the Harlem Clowns and a lifelong music fan.

Robinson, 50, grew up in the Cleveland area and in addition to his love of R&B and jazz, he is a natural born collector who over the years has amassed more than 5,000 R&B-related artifacts including rare photos, albums, promotional posters, clothing and much more that will be featured in the museum’s eventual permanent location. Robinson currently has a mobile version that he keeps available for events.

The museum’s structure will be unique because it will use Leo’s Casino as a backdrop. The famed R&B club on Cleveland’s east side was nationally known among R&B fans and artists during its near-heyday from 1963 to 1972.

The actual Leo’s Casino, owned by Leo Frank and Jules Berger, has already been designated a rock ’n’ roll landmark but Robinson believes the club’s storied history deserves to be feted.

The inaugural class of 18 includes several Northeast Ohio groups. Saturday night’s ceremony is sold out.

The inductees are:

Little Jimmy Scott — The diminutive Cleveland-born jazz and R&B singer whose rare genetic disease, Kallmann Syndrome, gave him his famous, crystal clear, contralto voice that was often mistaken for a woman’s voice. He had hits with Lionel Hampton in the 1940s, disappeared in the 1960s and was rediscovered in the 1990s.

Freddie Arrington — The beloved emcee and host of Leo’s Casino during its salad days. If you’re ever within earshot of Arrington, stop and listen because he has a million fascinating and funny stories about his times hanging out and working with R&B, jazz and comedy legends who would come to the club.

The Marvelettes — Classic Motown girl group that recorded enduring hits including Please Mr. Postman, Beechwood 4-5789 and Don’t Mess With Bill.

Otis Redding — Singer/songwriter and quintessential Southern soulman, who died in a plane crash in 1967. Redding had a relatively short time in the spotlight. His first hit, These Arms of Mine, was released in 1962 and his last, Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, was released posthumously in 1968, leaving classics including Try A Little Tenderness, I've Been Loving You Too Long and Mr. Pitiful.

James Brown — The Godfather of Soul and one of the most influential artists in pop music history.

The Temptations — The vocal group epitomized the soul and savvy of Motown with memorable hits such as My Girl and psychedelic soul classics such as Cloud 9 and Papa Was a Rolling Stone.

Little Willie John — The singer had hits in the 1950s and early ’60s with All Around the World, Need Your Love So Bad and Heartbreak (It’s Hurtin’ Me).

Ruby & the Romantics — Akron quintet best known for their rendition of the elegantly simple Our Day Will Come.

The Dramatics — Detroit vocal group know for its early 1970s soul and crossover hits Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get and In the Rain.

Jackie Wilson — The 1960s singer known as “Mr. Excitement” for his relentless, high-energy performances and songs such as (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, Lonely Teardrops and Baby Workout.

Edwin Starr — The Nashville to Cleveland transplant with the booming baritone voice who had hits with Agent Double O’ Soul and the era-defining anti-Vietnam War anthem War.

The Supremes — Another quintessential Motown-bred mix of class and soul, the trio, which included Diana Ross and Mary Wilson, had a string of No. 1 R&B and pop hits in the 1960s including Baby Love, Stop! In the Name of Love and Reflections.

The O’Jays — The Canton R&B legends and Rock Hall inductees epitomized the sophisticated yet still gritty Philly Soul Sound constructed by production team Gamble & Huff. Their hits stretch across four decades and their music often turns up in films and commercials, including Back Stabbers, For the Love of Money, I Love Music.

Gerald Levert — He is the youngest of the inductees and sadly also a posthumous recipient. The proud Cleveland native and son of Eddie Levert of the O’Jays, Gerald, a solo artist and a member of the group LeVert, brought an old-school soul-shouting style to contemporary 1980s and ’90s mechanized R&B and crossover success with radio staples, including Casanova, Just Coolin’, Can’t Help Myself and Thinkin’ Bout It.

The Hesitations — Another homegrown Cleveland group that had a few hits in the late 1960s with Soul Superman, Born Free and Climb Every Mountain.

The Kinsman Dazz Band — Known by most R&B fans as simply the Dazz Band, the Cleveland 1980s funkmeisters won a Grammy for their kinetic hit Let It Whip.

The Original Vandellas — During their heyday in the 1960s, the Motown trio of ladies was known as Martha and the Vandellas. Their hits include (Love Is Like a) Heat Wave, Nowhere to Run, Jimmy Mack, Bless You and the oft-covered Grammy Hall of Fame-inducted classic Dancing in the Street.

The Ohio Players — Classic funk band from Dayton whose hooks and grooves have been sampled by hip-hop, dance and R&B producers nearly as much as James Brown’s. During their 1970s heights, the group, whose string of salacious album covers caused a bit of controversy, mixed hard funk workouts such as Funky Worm, Skin Tight and the No. 1 hit Love Rollercoaster with sexy ballads including I Want to Be Free and Sweet Sticky Thing.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at mabram@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmxabram.

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