On January 23, 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted its first class of members.
When a Hall of Fame has been around long enough that all of the obvious honorees have been chosen, it becomes a ritual for the fans of that particular field to debate who should or should not be admitted, and whether or not each honoree is deserving. Such debates are, arguably, half of the fun of any Hall of Fame.
But the first few years in the life of any Hall of Fame are usually filled with honorees whose qualifications are undeniable, and such is the case for the first group of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honorees: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley.
A large selection of music from each of these artists is available for streaming or download at Freegal, and biographies of most of them are also available.
- Chuck Berry: music; his autobiography, Chuck Berry (print)
- James Brown: music; James McBride's Kill 'Em and Leave (e-book, e-audio, print, audio)
- Ray Charles: music, his autobiography, co-written with David Ritz, Brother Ray (e-book, e-audio, print)
- Sam Cooke: music; Peter Guralnick's Dream Boogie (e-book, print)
- Fats Domino: music; Rick Coleman's Blue Monday (print)
- The Everly Brothers: music
- Buddy Holly: music; Philip Norman's Rave On (print)
- Jerry Lee Lewis: music; Rick Bragg's Jerry Lee Lewis (e-book, e-audio, print)
- Little Richard: music; Charles White's The Life and Times of Little Richard (e-book, print)
- Elvis Presley: music; Peter Guralnick's 2-volume biography, Last Train to Memphis (e-book, print) and Careless Love (e-book, print)
In addition to these ten performers, the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also included three musicians from the pre-rock era, selected as "early influences": boogie-woogie pianist Jimmy Yancey (music); blues singer Robert Johnson (music), and country singer Jimmie Rodgers (music). (Note that there are two different singers named Jimmie Rodgers, and no easy way to separate them for linking; the Hall of Fame inductee is the 1930s country singer, not the 1950s country/pop singer.) Radio disc jockey Alan Freed and producer Sam Phillips were inducted as influential non-performers, and producer John Hammond was the first recipient of the Hall's Lifetime Achievement award for non-performers.
As deserving as this first class of honorees is, it is a striking oversight that no women were included in the initial group. Aretha Franklin (music) became the first female member of the Hall as part of the second class of inductees in 1987.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened its permanent home in Cleveland in 1995. It serves as a museum for rock and related musical fields. Hall of Fame members are honored in a special wing of the museum, but the museum is not limited only to those honorees.