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L. Kent Wolgamott: Fela Kuti the biggest surprise among the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominations
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L. Kent Wolgamott: Fela Kuti the biggest surprise among the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominations

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Music-Rock Hall

Go-Go's members (from left) Kathy Valentine, Charlotte Caffey, Belinda Carlisle, Gina Schock and Jane Wiedlin pose at their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011. The band made this year’s list of nominees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

The Google machine likely got hit pretty hard Wednesday morning when Fela Kuti was announced as one of the 16 nominees for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year.

The late Nigerian Afro-beat master and political revolutionary, whose music influenced the likes of Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel, is far from a household name in the U.S.

But he’s arguably THE African music icon, his funky guitar-drenched music is undeniable, and he would join reggae stars Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff as the only Hall of Fame members from outside the U.S., Great Britain and Ireland.

Kuti was the biggest surprise on the list of nominees that includes six women and the all-female band the Go-Go's, the most women ever nominated in a single year.

Those nominations are part of a deliberate effort by the Hall and its nominating committee to increase the number of inducted women and give all of them some well-deserved recognition in the male-dominated music world.

Two of the female nominees would be double inductees, being recognized for work on their own after previously being enshrined in partnership with their ex-husbands.

The great Carole King, whose mega-selling masterpiece “Tapestry” turned 50 this week, is in the Hall as a songwriter along with her ex-husband Gerry Goffin. Similarly, Tina Turner is already in for her ’60s and ’70s work with her ex, Ike, but not as the MTV-dominating solo artist of the 1980s.

A third person has a shot at getting in the Hall twice. That would be Dave Grohl, who’s already in as the drummer in Nirvana. Foo Fighters, the band Grohl has fronted for a quarter-century, is nominated this year.

The Foos, Iron Maiden and Rage Against the Machine are all nominated, another effort by the committee to hit on a slice of “rock” that its fans say is overlooked and underrepresented in the Hall.

Those metal/rock fans are often among those who say that rap doesn’t belong in the “Rock” Hall. Given that it’s really a hall of fame for popular music that is derived from the 20th-century sounds and influences that gave rise to rock ’n’ roll, rap belongs.

The committee has nominated two of the most important artists in hip-hop history — LL Cool J, the pioneering solo MC, and Jay-Z, the biggest rap star of the last two decades. Mary J. Blige, the queen of hip-hop soul also fits in that lane.

And newfound Twitter sensation Dionne Warwick is nominated, getting a chance to join her cousin, Whitney Houston, in the Hall.

Three nominations hit on the ’70s and ’80s punk/new wave era that transformed music for decades to come — the New York Dolls, a real rock ’n’ roll outfit that paved the way for the late ’70s New York punk scene, Devo, which made the world safe for weird, intellectual rock, and the Go-Go’s, representing the West Coast.

The Dolls and Devo are among the nine previous nominees that made the ballot again this year. They’re joined by Kate Bush, Todd Rundgren, King, Turner, LL Cool J, Chaka Khan, Rage and Maiden.

Look for at least one of those previous inductees to make it this time around. While it's hard to predict precisely who will get in, stats show that around 70% of those nominated eventually make it into the Hall.

It’s going to be interesting to see who makes it into the Hall this year, for all the artists are deserving and there appears to be no slam-dunk inductees.

Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, King and Turner look to be the best bets to get the “you’re in” phone call in May. But one or two of those could easily slip out. Jay-Z and LL Cool J, for example, could split the hip-hop vote and neither make it.

And it’s anybody’s guess who else will make it. I’ll be pulling for the Dolls, Devo, the Go-Go’s and Kuti. But I’m not holding out much hope that any, save for the Go-Go's, will be inducted this fall.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com. On Twitter @KentWolgamott  

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Entertainment reporter/columnist

L. Kent Wolgamott, the recipient of the 2018 Mayor’s Arts Award, has written about arts and entertainment for Lincoln newspapers since 1985, reviewing thousands of movies and concerts and hundreds of art exhibitions.

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