Update: Rock Hall Launches Virtual Companion to New Exhibit About Rage, Hope and Empowerment

click to enlarge Update: Rock Hall Launches Virtual Companion to New Exhibit About Rage, Hope and Empowerment
Jeff Niesel
Update: The Rock Hall has just launched a virtual companion to It's Been Said All Along: Voices of Rage, Hope, & Empowerment, a new exhibit that focuses on rock 'n' roll and social justice. The online component represents the Rock Hall’s largest virtual exhibit ever.

“We have amazing stories that live within the Rock Hall that spotlight how musical artists have channeled the power of rock ’n’ roll to respond to inequality and racism all along, and this is the time to amplify those messages and artists and continue to elevate the conversation,” says Nwaka Onwusa, Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in a press release about the virtual exhibit.

The virtual part of the exhibit includes the following: a walk-through of the physical exhibit with 360-degree videos; artist narratives from Chuck D, Fantastic Negrito, Miles Mosley, D Smoke and others; an exclusive performance and interview video footage from the Rock Hall’s vault; artifact images with audio commentary featuring the stories behind them; conversations with influential African-American photographers whose images are featured; educator essays with audio recordings; a curated Spotify playlist; and free online learning materials through Rock Hall EDU.

Artifacts featured both at the museum and virtually include an Aretha Franklin Valentino dress, a Jimi Hendrix guitar strap, a James Brown jumpsuit, a Mavis Staples dress, an N.W.A jacket and a Bob Marley hat.

There are also videos from the Rock Hall’s vault, such as Lauryn Hill performing Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got No – I Got Life” at the 2018 Induction Ceremony and the I Threes, a Jamaican reggae group formed in 1974 to support Bob Marley & the Wailers, performing “Redemption Song” at the 1994 Induction Ceremony.

Plus, you’ll find rare and never seen before photos captured by influential African-American photographers, including Chuck Stewart, Bruce Talamon, Bob Douglas and others. Among the images, you’ll find a behind-the-scenes photo of boxing champion and activist Muhammad Ali as well as images of soul and jazz musician/poet/author Gil Scott-Heron, jazz great Billie Holiday and rapper/activist Kendrick Lamar.

In a video, Public Enemy's Chuck D discusses the lyrics to “Fight the Power,” the political anthem that the group just updated for 2020. In an essay, Dr. Daphne Brooks writes about Aretha Franklin’s career in soul music and the impact it has as a" vehicle for messages of empowerment and identity."

The Rock Hall has also allowed artists to take over its Instagram account to discuss the exhibit. Recently, Chuck D. and Cypress Hill's B-Real discussed how they’ve used music as a platform for change. More upcoming takeovers are in the works.

Original Post 7/25/2020: Rock Hall Director of Curatorial Affairs Nwaka Onwusa was in the process of putting together an exhibit about rock 'n’ roll and social justice when the social protests started earlier this year. Those protests accelerated the process, and It’s Been Said All Along, a new exhibit that opens today, represents the fruits of her labor.

It highlights how Rock Hall Inductees such as Chuck Berry, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Little Richard, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, James Brown and Aretha Franklin were “trailblazers in speaking for the cause of dignity and equality.”

“Typically, we have a year or a couple of years to develop a new exhibit,” she says while wearing a mask and conducting an interview from a safe distance at the Rock Hall. “Because we have such powerful artifacts in our collection and we wanted this exhibit to be timely, we wanted to make sure, as Nina Simone says, to reflect the times. These musicians have been ‘saying it all along’ and this is a perfect time to amplify this narrative [of social protest] and celebrate these stories. It’s an opportunity to break down what rage might look like in a song.”

Onwusa says she steered clear of the “typical folks being hosed down” photos as she curated the exhibit.

“We want to highlight the eloquence and resilience of what these artists have overcome,” she says. “We want to show what the power of rock ‘n’ roll looks like in the face of segregation and racism. These artists have stood above all that and done it elegantly."

The exhibit features the work of African-American photographers such as Chuck Stewart, Bruce Talamon, Bob Douglas and others. Key artifacts include: Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” lyrics; a N.W.A. jacket reflecting the relevance of their single, “Fuck tha Police”; Aretha Franklin’s Valentino dress worn during her first appearance at Radio City Music Hall, where she sang “Respect”; a James Brown jumpsuit; a 1973 Wattstax film poster representing a cross-section of Black music from gospel to pop and was the largest gathering of African Americans during that time; and handwritten lyrics from songwriter and rapper D Smoke, who penned “Let Go” recorded hours before the killing of George Floyd, and recently performed live for the first time on the 2020 BET Awards. The exhibit also includes a guitar that was just acquired from singer-songwriter Fantastic Negrito.

“We wanted to make sure we were intentional about the images,” she says. “This is a great time to bring out some of the classic voices from the Rock Hall, and this is just a sampling of some of the key voices of rage, hope and empowerment. We’ll have a virtual exhibit in the coming months, and this is only the beginning. The timing is absolutely perfect for us to celebrate and amplify these voices.”

To celebrate today's opening, throughout the day, there will be spoken word and live music performances on the plaza, including Distinguished Gentlemen of the Spoken Word’s Clay ‘Bama at 1:45 p.m. and King Weatherspoon at 2 p.m. Singer-songwriter Jack Harris will deliver a Lunch by the Lake acoustic set, and there will be a Live & Local series performance by local singer-songwriter David Smeltz.

All performances are free on the plaza. RSVP at rockhall.com for the Live & Local performance that takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. With health and safety guidelines in mind, the plaza offers socially distanced outdoor seating, food and beer trucks, and free motorcycle and bicycle parking. It is pet friendly.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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