All these years, where was Nina Simone? Thursday’s nominations for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame contain a few surprises, but Simone’s inclusion makes for a special shock of realization: that this singular icon—an unmatched vocal talent and songwriter, history-making protest artist, and influencer of the Beatles—is not already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She wasn’t ever even nominated before.
The Hall of Fame is more or less designed to generate indignations and mysteries such as this. The quandary of Simone’s longtime omission is a subset of the larger question the Hall of Fame asks: What is rock and roll? The institution’s answer keeps evolving, and the issue can be as much about politics as it is about music.
The 2018 class of nominees: Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, The Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, The Meters, The Moody Blues, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray, The Zombies. It’s an eclectic list spanning genres (synth-pop, hip-hop, instrumental, metal, etc.) but also eras (from Tharpe’s gospel of the ’30s and ’40s to the ’90s alternative boom as seen in Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine, nominated in their first year of eligibility).