Put Rock Artists in Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Before Dolly Parton

The nominations for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced last month, and leading the pack and making the biggest splash was not a name from the rock world, but a country one in the form of Country Music Hall of Famer Dolly Parton. Dolly landing on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot was no accident. Beginning in 2020 with a big push from Billboard, NPR, and other places, especially on social media, the idea that not only Dolly made for a good candidate for the Rock Hall, but that it was somehow an oversight that she was not being considered previously, took root and has now grown legs.

Dolly Parton will be one of the 2022 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She’s just too big of a name to be disregarded. And in doing so, her name will suffocate out other more rock, and more worthy women for the distinction, including some of her fellow nominees from this year, namely Pat Benetar, Kate Bush, Carly Simon, Dionne Warwick, and the Eurythmics, not to mention women who were not nominated, such as Cyndi Lauper.

And though you might think a website called “Saving Country Music” would celebrate this development and advocate for a Dolly Parton Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction—and unquestionably Dolly Parton’s accomplishments make her a Queen of music whose influence and popularity span well beyond the country genre—this feels like a situation where a little Devil’s Advocacy is called for.

Granted, it’s not unprecedented that a country performer would end up enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers are there, but both were bluesmen who were inducted as “early influence” artists, and deservedly so. Johnny Cash is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame too. But seeing how Cash’s career started during the Sun Studios era right beside Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis—and he was considered just as much rockabilly as country by many early in his career, not to mention Cash’s late career resurgence that happened just as much through rock channels as country—Cash was an easy pick for the Rock Hall too.

And it’s not that the women of country have been excluded from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entirely. Wanda Jackson is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and is known just as much from her long career in country and rockabilly just as much as rock and roll. Brenda Lee is also in the Rock Hall, along with the Country Music Hall of Fame. These would be the kind of performers who crossed genres that country fans should root for being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

And it’s not that there aren’t some rock and rollers in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Elvis is in there, as are The Everly Brothers. But again, these are artists whose careers cut right across the influences of country, rock, and gospel, and put enough effort and influence into both to attain the dual induction.

And it’s not even that there isn’t a scenario where Dolly Parton couldn’t or shouldn’t be placed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the future. But that should be a future where the amount of rock and roll talent to induct is so tapped, you’re just looking for worthy names to put forward. That is certainly not the scenario we find ourselves in right now. As long as artists like Pat Benetar, Carly Simon, and Cyndi Lauper whose influence on rock was clear and present are they’re still waiting their turn—let alone male acts like Jethro Tull, Warren Zevon, Steppenwolf, Jim Croce, or even ones with country ties like Gram Parsons are still waiting—we shouldn’t even be talking about Dolly Parton or any country artists getting in.

The line to get into these Halls of Fame is single file, even when it comes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which feels extremely more open with the five to seven inductees each year, compared to the Country Hall’s three per year. As a country music fan, I don’t want country artists overshadowing or cutting in line in front of important rock and roll talent for that distinction. Rock fans and performers are our brothers and sisters, and we should respect their space and institutions instead of trying to impinge on them for our own purposes, or act like they’re being insulting or not inclusive by not letting someone like Dolly Parton or any other patently country performer in.

And yes, I get that Dolly Parton had her period of pop, which is probably one of the only slight qualifying points of why you could see Parton deserving a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, especially after they’ve put in performers like Madonna and Whitney Houston. But as country fans and advocates, let’s be more respectful of rock’s institutions. There is no big, established pop or hip-hop Hall of Fame like country has. We have our strong and vibrant institutions, and just as much as we wouldn’t want outside voices assuaging us to let pop or rock artists in under the misguided notions of inclusiveness, we shouldn’t use our voices to act like we are being excluded if country’s superstars don’t make it in among the rockers either.

And this brings up the next concern for saying that Dolly Parton or other country artists (women or otherwise) should be considered for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or even worse, that it’s an offense they aren’t already in there. As Billboard said in their opinion of why Dolly should be in, “The lack of Rock Hall attention given to Dolly Parton has been extended to any number of the great ladies of country—Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris—and a number of the men, too.”

See, that’s when you start traveling down a slippery slope. If Dolly gets in, then how can you justify Willie Nelson not being in? His music was much more closer to rock in the 70’s. Or how about Merle Haggard, since he so heavily influenced the California rockers of the 60’s and 70’s? And speaking of that, why not Buck Owens who built one of the important foundations for country rock and was covered by The Beatles? And if we’re measuring the overall cultural impact of a performer, you would have to put Garth Brooks in. He’s sold more music than even Elvis. And if you really want to talk about what defines rock, a lot of modern country artists fit the profile exactly. Jason Aldean and Eric Church are much more rockers than country artists. Do we put them in when they’re eligible in a few years?

Now you see how out-of-hand this thing can get, and very quickly, where you could have country stars outright dominating future Hall of Fame classes. This is what happened when the Rock Hall started putting in people that had no business being in there previously, like pop and hip-hop stars. How could you have Madonna in there and not Whitney Houston? How did you induct Tupac and leave out Notorious B.I.G.? Then you have to induct these artists to calm your critics, and meanwhile incredibly important rock artists are left on the outside looking into an institution they should have been inducted into years ago. Attempting to be “inclusive” commonly comes with the exclusion of others, and sometimes the more qualified. Country artists should not be a party to those offenses, especially since they have their own strong and vibrant Hall of Fame to seek induction into.

Dolly Parton is country, and whether the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognizes her or not, her legacy is cemented in American and world culture for eternity. She is one of the most recognized and beloved public personalities worldwide, and though an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be nice, it would do little to materially benefit her legacy. Meanwhile the careers of Pat Benetar or Carly Simon could significantly benefit from the retrospective a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction would include.

It’s fun to discuss how these decisions should and shouldn’t go, and of course everyone’s opinion varies. And we should all make sure the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and all these music institutions judge artists based off of their merit, while also making sure any and all vestiges of sexism or racism are torn down to make sure they don’t impinge anyone’s chances.

But in this case, putting Dolly Parton or other country women into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wouldn’t be beneficial to women or country. It would be exclusionary to the women and men of rock, who deserve that distinction more than country artists do.

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Editor’s Note: Portions of this article previously appeared in 2020’s “No, Don’t Put Dolly Parton in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Yet)

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