Last week Rochester honored six people who contributed to the local music legacy. In a ceremony held at the iconic Eastman Theatre, The Rochester Music Hall of Fame 2017 inducted blues man Joe Beard, classical composer Samuel Adler, pop star Gary Lewis, jazz trumpeter Lewis Soloff, radio DJ Roger McCall, and Penny Arcade owner Greg Sullivan. Highlights of the evening included spectacular performances by honorees and distinguished guests David Clayton-Thomas and Paul Shaffer.
The first inductee was the legendary Joe Beard, born in the 1930’s to sharecroppers in Mississippi, he grew up immersed in the musical heritage of the delta blues. He migrated north and settled in Rochester, where he married and raised four children. In his lifetime, he has played with the likes of Muddy Waters, BB King, and Son House. On this occasion, he performed with his sons, Chris and Duane. They played a trio of songs from his extensive catalog of music, including “Don’t Know Why.” Joe stood center stage, his cherry red guitar a stark contrast to his dark suit, while his sons stood behind. At one point, they took turns soloing on their guitars, playing with as much comfort and ease as a friendly conversation.
Next up for an award was Samuel Adler, a distinguished composer and teacher, with more than 400 published works to his name. Adler taught at the Eastman School of Music for three decades before relocating to New York City to teach at Julliard. His “Piano Quintet for Piano and String Quartet” was performed by Upton String Quartet with Yi-Yang Chen on Piano. The piece starts slow and lamenting, bursts into discordant notes, then finds triumphant harmony. It is a shining example of Adler’s adept skill as a composer, and why he is highly sought after for commissions.
Gary Lewis took the stage, sidestepping his way to the mic. His natural ability at showmanship comes from growing up in the entertainment industry, taking the stage at an early age with his father, Jerry Lewis. Gary made a name for himself in the 60’s with his band, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, with rapid-fire hits that bumped bands like The Beatles down on the charts. Gary Lewis met his wife at the Eastman Theatre twenty years ago, and has lived here since. They still tour actively around the world. Tonight, they performed rousing renditions of their greatest hits, including “This Diamond Ring,” which had audience members dancing in their seats.
The intermission was also a to-do, with performers and local music legends like Lou Gramm meeting with attendees in the hallways to chat, sign autographs, and share a “Kodak moment” with their fans. The second half of the night was more somber, with posthumous awards given to members of the local music community who we have lost.
Lew Soloff, most notably known for his work with the band Blood, Sweat & Tears, spent part of his career teaching at the Eastman School of Music. His daughters accepted the award on his behalf. Paul Shaffer and David Clayton-Thomas also made the trip to Rochester to help honor their longtime friend. Paul carried out Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” on piano, then took to the organ to accompany as David Clayton-Thomas played a trio of Blood, Sweat & Tears songs, starting with “Spinning Wheel.” He also sang “God Bless the Child,” a song originally done by Billie Holiday, which he said Lew had encouraged him to tackle. He ended with “You Make Me So Very Happy.”
Roger McCall, the beloved radio DJ known by the alias “Unkle Rog,” worked for over 30 years at WCMF, making him the longest-running DJ at a single station. He worked the graveyard shift, and featured local artists, helping to cultivate the local music scene. Unkle Rog was taken from us in 2003 in a tragic act of violence. His wife and his son accepted the award. A tribute song “All Night DJ” was composed by John Akers. The jazzy number was performed by Akers on vocals and piano, Paul Akers on Bass, Erik Welsh on drums, Andy Calabrese on Keyboards, and James Richmond on Saxophone.
The final inductee was Greg Sullivan, owner of local venue The Penny Arcade. The nightclub featured live music, bringing in major rock stars like Iggy Pop, Greg Allman, and Huey Lewis & The News. Sullivan also mentored local musicians, providing a place for them to hone their craft and grow a following. The club has been closed for seven years now, and Sullivan passed away in 2014. Sullivan’s wife accepted the award. A tribute song “We’re Rockin’ at the Penny Arcade,” was composed by James Richmond, Mike Gladstone, and Rob Smith. The rocking number was played by Smith and Phil Naro on vocals, David Cohen on drums, Ron France on Bass, Gladstone and Donnie Mancuso on guitars, Will O’Riley on keyboard, and Richmond on saxophone.
The finale of the night was a tribute song “You Shine,” written by Jeff Cosco in memory of Greg Sullivan and Unkle Rog, and played in homage to the legends by Cosco on vocals, Mancuso, Gladstone, and Joe Chiappone on guitars, Bobby Bond on drums, France on bass, and Andy Calabrese on keyboards.
All of the performances of the night were supported by the Hall of Fame’s house band, Prime Time Funk. The Rochester Music Hall of Fame is a non-profit agency, and this program was made possible by a host of local patrons and advertisers. For more information about the Rochester Music Hall of Fame and past inductees, visit www.rochestermusic.org.
Photos by Battista Photography
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