The 2013 Rochester Music Hall of Fame induction concert got off to a slamming start with a gospel blues tribute to Son House.
The late blues legend was an honoree this year, as well as Foreigner lead singer Lou Gramm, philanthropist George Eastman, record executive Mitch Miller, DJs Nick Mickson and Jack Palvino and — inducted separately, but impossible to separate in the minds of Rochesterians who remember when the duo ruled the local scene — singer-songwriters Don Potter and Bat McGrath. The ceremony took place Sunday night at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.
It’s a diverse group representing a range of musical styles and contributions. They join last year’s inaugural class: women’s orchestra pioneer Doriot Anthony Dwyer, the long-demolished Corinthian Hall, “Swedish Nightengale” Jenny Lind’s 19th-century performances in Corinthian Hall, cool jazz cat Cab Calloway, jazz-pop icon Chuck Mangione, Wings drummer Joe English, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, Broadway composer Charles Strouse and Rascals guitarist Gene Cornish.
The hall’s organizers had wanted to include Gramm in the 2012 edition but some kind of a communication breakdown — either Gramm didn’t get the word in time, or Gramm didn’t get back to the committee, it depends of who you ask — resulted in him not being inducted until Sunday. That’s an oversight that some compared to if Babe Ruth had been left out of the first class of inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Eastman’s induction, as with all of the inductees, opened with a biographical video. In her induction speech, Betty Strasenburgh recalled how Eastman, in spite of all of his philanthropic endeavors on behalf of culture in Rochester, called himself “a musical moron.” But he did love music, and the audience was treated to some of his favorites: A string quartet, organ music (the world’s largest residential pipe organ is being rebuilt in the Eastman House) and a trio of dancers performing a routine that likely wasn’t common in Eastman’s day: “Boy meets girl, girl loses boy to another girl, boy loses girl to another girl.”
Palvino and Nickson were primarily known for their work with WBBF-FM. Nickson was not feeling well enough to attend the event but Palvino covered for both.
“This is really BBF that is being inducted,” he announced in a funny acceptance speech that named names, relished old radio pranks and recalled when gas was 25 cents a gallon.
“I never felt like I worked a day in my life,” Palvino said. “A couple of my old bosses might agree.”
Miller, who died in 2010, was represented by musical guest Bob McGrath singing pop standards —“Whenever I see Your Smiling Face” — that might have been heard on Miller’s old show, Sing Along With Mitch. But it was a video tribute by Leslie Uggams that really resonated.
“I know a lot of people didn’t get along with Mitch,” she conceded, but went on to say that Miller had refused to remove her from the show even though some television stations in the South refused to carry a show featuring an African-American performer.
“He did his Civil Rights when it came to me,” she said.
The Rochester Music Hall of Fame board has said it is in no hurry to find a brick-and-mortar home for the 17 honorees, choosing to bide its time by building a solid core of inductees.