Rock Hall President & CEO Greg Harris: From Cooperstown To Cleveland, A Passion For Rock ’N’ Roll

President and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Greg Harris speaks onstage during the 36th Annual Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on Oct. 30, 2021, in Cleveland. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images / The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Born in Treton, New Jersey, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame President/CEO Greg Harris steeps in “what it is.” Called “Elmo” back in his day of road managing young Ben Vaughn, the Temple University grad co-founded the Philadelphia Record Exchange in 1985 – specializing in hard-to-find vinyl.

A 14-year stint at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., led to Cleveland in 2008 as the Rock Hall’s VP of Development. Named President a decade ago, Harris’ passion for music, museums and sports makes him a strong leader for the I.M. Pei building on Lake Erie that houses artifacts, exhibitions and learning opportunities.

With the 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Gala at Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater on Nov. 5, its 37th class represents a diversity never before seen and the chance to consider what “rock” means.

Pollstar: Big year!
Greg Harris: And it’s LA, which is only the third time. So many of this year’s inductees are still very active and have connections to the city, which is great.

Duran Duran to Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie to Eminem.
Six artists who’ve never been on the ballot before got in. Even more interesting: there’s a burst of MTV-era artists, Eurythmics, Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, Duran Duran all going in. These are artists who were discovered through TV more than conventional radio. When you think of the songs, you get a picture of the videos.

It’s even more diverse than that.
There’s an incredible breadth of years. From Elizabeth Cotten to Carly Simon to Eminem, that’s 100 years of history all side by side. To think there’s a century span on our inductees… It was an incredibly diverse ballot this year, so the class shows how diverse our voters can be. What they see as rock ’n’ roll.

There’s – obviously – been some debate. Starting with the Dolly kerfuffle.
The problems tend to generate most of the headlines and conversation, but really the inductees are all firmly rooted in the pillars of rock ’n’ roll. Blues, gospel, country – those things are all part of it.

The argument can be made: rock ’n’ roll is state of mind, how you carry yourself.
It is that. An attitude, a spirit. I find myself starting to quote Ice Cube in his Induction speech, and that’s exactly where he went. Rock ’n’ roll has really come down to that speech for me: the attitude and the vibe.

Whether it’s Eminem, Elizabeth Cotten, or Duran Duran, Dolly Parton, Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, Harry Belafonte or Lionel Richie, they really do underscore that larger thing of the pillars and spirit.

Last year, in Cleveland no less, you had some pretty insane surprises.
(laughing) And this year’s ceremony being in LA, I’m hoping we see some of the same kind of surprises we had in Cleveland. When J-Lo and Eminem came out and joined LL Cool J, that was one of those moments. You can’t expect them, but when they happen, that’s everything this night is.

And Joel Peresman and John Sykes are so connected and so good, I never know what they’re going to create. Even if it was just what’s on script, this night is unlike any other in music.

There are the executives and creators, too.
Jimmy Iovine. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The people know them. Judas Priest is only the second band to go in for Musical Excellence; the E Street Band was first. Allen Grubman, the attorney, represented how many of our inductees?

But the one I’m really excited about is Sylvia Robinson. She is the first Black woman to receive the Ahmet Ertegun Award, only the fourth woman ever. She was a songwriter and musician, which people don’t always remember because she was such a groundbreaking executive and label owner.

What started with Sugar Hill Records in Inglewood, New Jersey, which they founded and released “Rapper’s Delight” by Grandmaster Flash and the Sugar Hill Gang was the beginning of modern hip hop. They dropped that record, then just kept going. Sylvia Robinson was spearheading every innovation in the first wave of hip-hop – [and] she was doing it on an indie label in a male dominated world and business. Talk about rock ’n’ roll.

It never gets old for you.
If you love the music, it doesn’t. We’re doing a 2022 Inductees Exhibit at the Museum in Cleveland. It opened Nov. 1, just to celebrate the incoming class even more. Those things are what makes all of this matter.