PAWTUCKET — The Ocean State now has a musical shrine to call its own. On Sunday night, a ribbon-cutting was held at the Hope Artiste Village at 999 Main Street to debut the new Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame, which is located in an actual hallway just outside The Met, will eventually feature eight display cases filled with musical instruments, records, posters and other memorabilia from the first class of inductees. Right now, there are just mock-ups of the displays, but Robert Billington, chairman of the Rhode Island Hall of Fame Board of Directors, said the space will one day feature some 80 exhibits highlighting the careers of local singers, songwriters and musicians. Since the Hope Artiste Village has donated the hallway space, the museum will be open to the public free of charge.
Following the ribbon cutting, an induction ceremony was held at The Met to honor the first Hall of Fame class. These local luminaries included John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, Roomful of Blues, the late Dave McKenna, Eileen Farrell and Oliver Shaw, and three other acts previously inducted into the Rhode Island Popular Music Archive Hall of Fame—Ken Lyon, Anders & Poncia, and Gerry Granahan.
Billington told the sold-out crowd inside The Met that the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame now joins 19 other states that have recognized their sons and daughters for their contributions to the world of music.
He noted that Rhode Island's recorded history dates back five centuries, and said the Hall of Fame was established to identify artists who have added to this great history through their dedicated work in all genres of music.
Billington singled out Mederick “Rick” Bellaire, who served as music archivist. It was Bellaire's lifelong collection of Rhode Island music that allowed for the stories of current and future Hall of Fame inductees to be told, he said. He added that there are plans to also create an on-line archive featuring information and audio/video recordings by those involved in the Ocean State's past and present music scene.
Noting that money will be needed to purchase display cases for the museum, Billington said that several fundraising projects are currently underway. Chief among these is the creation of a commemorative signed poster by internationally known designer and Pawtucket native Morris Nathanson, which is being sold for $25. There are also Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame T-shirts that are available for purchase.
Musician Duke Robillard said he thinks the Hall of Fame is an idea whose time has come because there are so many local musicians who deserve credit for their achievements. “I've been bragging about the talent from this area for years,” he said. He added that he was glad to see Dave McKenna being honored as well as others from past eras, and not just contemporary musicians.
John Chan, another Hall of Fame board member and the owner of Chan's in Woonsocket, called the evening “a wonderful event to celebrate the rich musical heritage of Rhode Island. We're fortunate to have so many talented musicians from the Ocean State.”
Chan added that he has been involved in the local music scene since 1977, and noted that the late Dave McKenna had played at his restaurant/nightclub, as well as Roomful of Blues and Ken Lyon.
Herb Weiss, also a Hall of Fame Board Member and Pawtucket's Economic and Cultural Affairs Officer, said the new museum will serve as “a great place to recognize Rhode Island's greatest musicians.” He added that city officials have been working for the past 13 years to bring the arts to Pawtucket, and this is one more way to ensure a thriving and vibrant arts scene.
Weiss said the intent is to induct a new group of musicians into the Hall of Fame every year, and to host a ceremony and concert. He noted that The Met, located in the Hope Artiste Village, has great acoustics, is centrally located and has ample parking, which makes it an ideal spot for this event.
Rudy Cheeks, a Hall of Fame board member and musical legend in his own right with his band “The Young Adults,” served as master of ceremonies, and various Hall of Fame board members presented the awards to the inductees.
The crowd was then treated to several musical performances, including a musical tribute to Dave McKenna that featured Jean McKenna O'Donnell as vocalist and John Worsley and Barry DeRossi on piano. Other performances featured Roomful of Blues, John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, and a jam session featuring Gary “Guitar” Gramolini, with inductees and other special guests.