Robert ‘Kool’ Bell, Suzanne de Passe & More React to Rock Hall of Fame Induction News

“Honestly, I broke into tears when they told me,” says longtime Motown executive Suzanne de Passe about the moment she learned that she would be receiving the Ahmet Ertegun Award at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, taking place Oct. 19 in Cleveland.



See latest videos, charts and news

See latest videos, charts and news

That reflected the many reactions coming from inductees after the Rock Hall’s Class of 2024 was revealed on Sunday (April 21) night’s episode of American Idol on ABC. Joy, exultation and even some surprise was expressed by those headed into the Rock Hall this year, whether in the voted-on performers category or those receiving this year’s musical excellence awards.

Robert “Kool” Bell is happy to explain why Kool & the Gang, an R&B band with several pop hits, belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Speaking to Billboard via Zoom, with bottles of his branded champagne sitting alongside to presumably, er, celebrate the induction, Bell says that “I did 48 shows with Van Halen, 10 shows with Kid Rock, opened for the Dave Matthews Band, Elton John, Rod Stewart. I also worked with Foreigner…If you’re gonna call it a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame then, yeah, I guess you could say that I feel like a rock n’ roller.”

Trending on Billboard

Bell is, of course, the last remaining member of Kool & the Gang’s original lineup and says his departed bandmates, including his brother Ronald Bell, would be pleased with the Rock Hall honor. “We’ve been to a lot of different ones,” Bell notes, including a 2018 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. “It’s great to finally be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. All the guys would love it.” Kool & the Gang’s Rock Hall honor comes 60 years after the band’s formation in New Jersey, and 55 years after its self-titled debut album.

Ozzy Osbourne, who was inducted with Black Sabbath in 2006, tells Billboard via email that being honored for his solo career “feels big. I’m more than honored.” He says the induction for his own work, which began with the Blizzard of Ozz album in 1980 “feels different than with Sabbath because my solo career, it’s been a much larger part of my overall music career as a whole…I feel like I was invited to a party in 1980, and it hasn’t stopped. Not bad for a guy who was fired from his last band.” Osbourne, who’s effectively retired from touring due to a variety of health issues, including Parkinson’s disease, says he’s not sure about performing at the ceremony but will be there, in attire that “most certainly will be black.”

Peter Frampton tells Billboard that he’s “a little bit shock, and speechless” after learning the news of his induction. He was also stoked about finishing second behind the Dave Matthews Band in the fan vote, with 528,000. “It’s an honor people regard me in this way. I’m just blown away,” said Frampton, who had encouraged fan voting during his recent tour by flashing a QR code for the vote on the video screen at his concerts. “It’s quite uncanny we would be touring during the public voting, so every night I could hopefully get a few hundred out of the couple of thousand, three thousand that were in the audience. And it made a difference.”

Foreigner founder Mick Jones told Billboard in an exclusive interview that, “It’s a great honor to be included amongst all these great artists that have been inducted over the years.” He added that despite waiting more than 20 years since the band became eligible, “I certainly haven’t been overly consumed by it. Every year was the same thing, so eventually I didn’t really worry about it…I’ve had a great career, and this is like the whipped cream and cherry on top.”

Jones, who’s battling Parkinson’s disease, was also “very grateful” to son-in-law Mark Ronson’s video campaign on Foreigner’s behalf, which enlisted luminaries such as Paul McCartney, Slash, Jack Black, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others to express their surprise and indignation that Foreigner hadn’t already been inducted. “I wasn’t totally aware of the extent to which he saw this through…I had a good laugh seeing Paul’s Instagram post.” Jones added that he plans to attend the ceremony in October but hasn’t decided if he’ll play or not. Original Foreigner frontman Lou Gramm previously told Billboard that he plans to be there and expects to perform the Billboard Hot 100 topper “I Want to Know What Love Is” and one other song.

The MC5’s musical achievement Award is “bittersweet” in the wake of co-founder Wayne Kramer’s death on Feb. 2 at the age of 75, according to his widow, Margaret Saadi Kramer. “Perhaps even the exact right thing at precisely the wrong time,” noted Kramer, who manages MC5 affairs and co-founded the Jail Guitar Doors initiative with her husband. “Yet I’m certain he would have landed in gratitude for this recognition and received it like the beautiful free radical he was, an underdog victorious.” Three other MC5 members — Rob Tyner, Fred Smith and Michael Davis — have also passed, leaving only drummer Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson.

Wayne Kramer did finish working on a new MC5 album, Heavy Lifting, which is due out later this year and features guests such as Thompson, Guns N’ Roses’ Slash, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave), Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, Alice in Chains’ William DuVall, Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath and Don Was. It will be packaged with a live recording of the all-star MC50 band during 2018 in the MC5’s hometown of Detroit.

Suzanne de Passe, who is still active as a TV and film producer since her days with Motown, said she’s “truly blown away and honored,” and that the Ahmet Ertegun Award means even more to her because she saw her mentor, Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., receive it back in 1987. “Berry Gordy gave me the opportunity of a lifetime,” says de Passe, whose time at Motown included shepherding the careers of the Jackson 5, Lionel Richie and others as well as producing the Emmy-winning Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever and specials for the company’s 30th and 40th anniversaries. She also produced miniseries about the Temptations and Jacksons as well as Lonesome Dove and other projects.

“I really learned a lot and was able to go out on a limb in some cases and either rise or fall, but never not be in a position of learning and growing,” she says. “I’m very, very grateful for the career I’ve had and the opportunities that have come my way because of that launching pad.”

She’s also happy to be honored alongside Motown songwriter-producer Norman Whitfield, whom she knew well and calls “one of the funniest people I ever met, a born comedian. We worked together a lot and I learned a lot from Norman. He really took me under his wing and taught me a lot about working in the studio. We had a great relationship.”

Berry Gordy issued a statement celebrating the honors for both of his Motown charges on April 21.

“Today marks a moment of intense pride as two members of the Motown Family will be honored at the upcoming Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation Awards, Suzanne de Passe and Norman Whitfield,” reads Gordy’s statement. “I want to congratulate, Suzanne, my protégé and longtime friend, on being selected to receive the prestigious Ahmet Ertegun Award! Suzanne’s vision and passion contributed to Motown’s success. Every task I ever threw at her, she not only accomplished, but exceeded my expectations. Suzanne went from being my creative assistant, helping to launch the careers of Michael Jackson, the Jackson 5, Lionel Richie, the Commodores and more, to co-writing a screenplay for Lady Sings the Blues, for which she received an Oscar nomination. Suzanne has great instincts, a sharp wit, and a creative sense that has made her a formidable player in the entertainment world. I continue to be extremely proud of her.

“I am also so thrilled that Norman Whitfield, whom I consider a true musical genius and one of Motown’s most important creative forces, has been selected for the Rock & Rock Hall of Fame’s musical excellence award. His brilliant body of work was versatile and bold. He had early collaborations like Marvin Gaye’s ‘Pride and Joy’ and the Temptations’ ‘Just My Imagination.’ He had numerous No. 1 hits, including two with the same song, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine,’ back to back on two artists – Gladys Knight & the Pips and Marvin Gaye. Then, with his ear to the streets, he took the Temptations and Motown in a whole new direction. Norman’s music reflected the social consciousness of the times with songs like ‘Ball of Confusion,’ ‘War,’ ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone.’ His incredible body of work makes him one of the most important creative forces of his time.”