Class of 2016

The “Class of 2016” inductees

Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis is an acclaimed saxophonist and composer who was the architect of James Brown’s era-defining soul classics of the late 1960s, introducing the dynamic arrangements and rhythm that would define the emerging language of funk. Ellis is considered the inventor of “funk jazz” and together with Brown is credited with giving birth to funk, melding together his jazz influence with Brown’s R&B roots. Born in Florida, Ellis’s family moved when he was a teenager to Rochester, N.Y., where he studied at Madison High School and collaborated with fellow fledgling jazz musicians (and past RMHF inductees) Chuck Mangione and Ron Carter. He was given the nickname “Pee Wee” by older jazz musicians with whom he used to jam.

At age 24, he began working with James Brown and was his bandleader from 1965 to 1969. He co-wrote and arranged several songs with the Godfather of Soul, including “Cold Sweat,” “Licking Stick,” “Mother Popcorn,” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and he also performs on many of Brown’s most notable recordings. Other artists Ellis has worked with and composed and arranged for include George Benson, Dave Liebman, Aerosmith, and Van Morrison. Today Ellis lives in the UK where he leads his band The Pee Wee Ellis Assembly, is writing his autobiography, and is developing a project chronicling the history and impact of funk on popular music and culture.

Howard Hanson (1896-1981) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who has been called the dean ofAmerican composers and spokesman for music in America. He served as director of Eastman School of Music — by invitation of George Eastman and Rush Rhees — for 40 years from 1924 to 1964, taking office shortly before his 28th birthday. The Eastman School under his leadership developed into an institution in which students could receive a well-rounded education while concentrating on their professional studies. Also during this tenure, Hanson became one of the country’s most influential music educators and championed American classical music, premiering at the school 2,000 works by more than 500 American composers, through the American Composers Concerts and an annual Festivals of American Music, thus providing opportunities for commissioning and performing American music. When Hanson retired, the University of Rochester named him the director of a newly created Institute of American Music, which operated from royalties on compositions and recordings executed during his tenure at the Eastman School.

In addition to earning 36 honorary doctorate degrees, Hanson also earned recognition for his original works — his 1934 opera Merry Mount is considered the first fully American opera and his Symphony No. 4 earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1944. Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 “Romantic” is the featured piece during the closing moments of the 1979 film Alien.

Joe Locke is a renowned vibraphonist who is heralded internationally as one of the major voices of his instrument, earning a top spot on Jazz Week album charts, the title “Mallet Player of the Year” several times from the Jazz Journalists Association, and the Ear Shot award for “Concert of the Year.” Locke has more than 30 acclaimed recordings to his credit and has performed with a diverse range of musicians, including Grover Washington Jr., Cecil Taylor, Dianne Reeves, Ron Carter, The Beastie Boys, and the Münster Symphony Orchestra.

Locke has mastered an instrument that has catapulted only a handful of players to the forefront of modern jazz. The Times of London has said he is “set to become the pre-eminent vibraphonist in jazz” and the Penguin Encyclopedia of Jazz stated, “In the select group of contemporary vibes players, Locke has claims to head the list.” He is an Honorary Associate of the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he holds the position of International Vibraphone Consultant. Locke’s latest album, Love is a Pendulum, has been featured in a number of  “Best of 2015” lists, including those of DownBeat Magazine, Jazz Times, and critic Jack Garner in the Democrat and Chronicle. Locke’s family moved to Rochester, N.Y. from California when he was young. While he is a self-taught improviser, he mastered his craft while in high school, studying classical percussion and composition at the Eastman School of Music.

James Rado is an actor, playwright, and composer who is best known for his groundbreaking rock-musical Hair. He won the Grammy Award in 1969 for Best Score, alongside Hair co-creator Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot, as well as a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical — and 40 years later stood on the Tony’s stage in 2009 when Hair won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The music charts were dominated by songs from Hair in 1969 — many seen as anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement — with The Fifth Dimension releasing the medley “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” which topped the charts for six weeks and won Record of the Year. Other hits that reached the second, third, and fourth spots on the Billboard charts, respectively, were The Cowsills’s recording of the title song “Hair”; “Good Morning Starshine” as sung by Oliver; and Three Dog Night’s version of “Easy to Be Hard.”

Rado (born James Alexander Radomski) grew up in Irondequoit and his dream as a teen was to write a Broadway musical. He began writing Hair in 1964 and performed the role of Claude in the original Broadway production when it was staged in 1968. The theatrical show ran for nearly 2,000 performances in both London and New York and set up for years at a time in major cities around the globe. It was made into a hit movie in 1979 and revived on Broadway in 2009 and is currently playing at an Off-Off-Broadway theater in New York. Rado has authored and composed other stage shows since Hair and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009. Rado’s immense influence on musical theater is evident today, with Hair featuring the first-ever racially integrated cast and also defining the genre of “rock musical.” Proof of that influence is in 2010 all four Tony nominees for Best Musical were rock musicals. In his words, in regard to the intensity of it all: “My mother was so enthralled with her son singing “Where Do I Go” at the end of Act I, she didn’t even see the nude scene that accompanied it. Can you say YOU were there!? Fortunately, I can.”

The Rustix (active 1967 to 1972) was an R&B/blue-eyed soul band based in Rochester that was one of the first rock bands signed by Motown subsidiary Rare Earth Records. The Rustix recorded two albums and generated the hit songs “Come On People,” “When I Get Home,” “Hard to Handle,” “Free Again,” and “Can’t You Hear the Music Play?” The band drew big crowds at the Varsity Inn in Rochester and also at the Brighton Bowl on East Avenue, where the owner offered to a build a new club to accommodate the band’s growing fan base, naming it Club 45. Their fame grew as they played summers in Lake George and recorded their first single on Cadet records.

In 1969, to support their “Bedlam” album — recorded on Motown label’s for white bands called Rare Earth — they toured the country and opened for the Jimmy Hendrix Experience, The Rascals, The Four Tops, Grand Funk Railroad, and Emerson Lake & Palmer. The album reached the Top 100 Billboard List. The band reunited in 1979 for an anniversary concert and they now will reunite again for the 2016 induction ceremony. The members being inducted on April 24th will be: Chuck Brucato, George Cocchini, Ron Collins, David Colon Jr. and Vince Strenk as well as posthumous inductions for late members, Bob D’Andrea, Al Galich and Bob Soehner.

Wendy O. Williams (1949-1998) was an American singer, songwriter, and actress who was known as the “Queen of Shock Rock.” While remembered for her stage antics, she is also heralded for her talent, for which she earned a Grammy nomination in 1985 for “Best Female Rock Vocal” for the album WOW (the first of her three solo albums and one in which she collaborated with Gene Simmons and members of KISS and released the hit song “It’s My Life”). Williams first came to national prominence as the lead singer of the punk-rock band The Plasmatics, a controversial group known for wild stage shows that broke countless taboos. They were popular in the underground punk scene in New York City, performing at famed CBGBs, and released five albums that featured the singles “Doom Song,” “Butcher Baby,” “Monkey Suit,” and “Dream Lover.”

The band’s focus was always on Williams, whose infamous stage theatrics included using sledgehammers and chainsaws to destroy television sets, guitars and even a Cadillac, all while wearing eccentric costumes that allowed for partial nudity. She was arrested on obscenity charges for her live performances that went too far, according to local authorities. In 1979, the same year she was asked to front The Plasmatics, she appeared in the adult film Candy Goes to Hollywood. Throughout her life, Williams remained a vocal advocate of her rights to self-expression. “We’re not out to pick fights,” Williams said in a 1981 Rolling Stone interview. “But then the essence of what we do is shaking up the middle class; I think if you don’t do that with your music, you’re just adding to the noise pollution.”

Williams grew up in Webster, N.Y. (full name Wendy Orleans Williams) and died at age 48 from suicide. In her performance career, she also dabbled in film and television acting, with roles in Reform School Girls in 1986 and MacGyver in 1990.