Lou Gramm part of Rochester Music Hall of Fame's newest class

11:26 PM, Apr 28, 2013

The lead singer of Foreigner is joined by the late Son House, George Eastman, Mitch Miller, Nick Mickson, Jack Palvino, Don Potter and Bat McGrath. (MARIE DE JESUS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)/

Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

A highlight of the 2013 Rochester Music Hall of Fame induction Sunday night? Hard to pick between the first performance as a duo by Bat McGrath and Don Potter in 40 years or Lou Gramm loosening his tie after accepting his G-clef statue and easing into the rocking ballad “Midnight Blue.”

The second annual event was a near-sellout of about 2,000 who came for the eight new honorees. They included Potter and McGrath, who were inducted separately but are impossible to separate in the minds of people who remember when the duo ruled the local scene. And Gramm, who celebrates the release of his autobiography, Juke Box Hero, next weekend and will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June. Also honored: The late blues legend Son House, philanthropist George Eastman, record executive Mitch Miller and DJs Nick Nickson and Jack Palvino.

While there are no women in this year’s class, it is nonetheless a diverse group representing a range of musical styles and contributions. They join last year’s inaugural class of women’s orchestra pioneer Doriot Anthony Dwyer, the long-demolished Corinthian Hall, “Swedish Nightengale” Jenny Lind’s 19th-century performances in Corinthian Hall, cool jazz cat Cab Calloway, jazz-pop icon Chuck Mangione, Wings drummer Joe English, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, Broadway composer Charles Strouse and Rascals guitarist Gene Cornish.

McGrath was introduced by his longtime songwriting pal Pat Alger and his wife, The Young and the Restless actor Tricia Cast. Potter was brought out by Naomi Judd of The Judds, for whom he was musical director for years. The voices of all three wavered at one point, with Judd even yanking a tissue from out of the neckline of her dress. “This dress doesn’t have pockets,” she apologized, dabbing at her eyes.

McGrath played solo on a song from his new album, “No Reverb,” then was joined by Rochester guitarist Ethan Porter and about half of the house band Prime Time Funk for the old favorite “Blue Eagle.”

You’re a city blessed beyond what you understand,” Potter said in praising Rochester’s music heritage. “Call back the creative people and it will change the world.” He did “Paris Without You” and “Prisoner,” then was joined by McGrath on “Old Friends,” with Potter flashing bemused grins at McGrath over the line “We don’t always get along,” before closing with Potter’s soaring version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Gramm’s acceptance speech was the shortest — a handful of thank-yous — before he rocked the show to a close with “Midnight Blue,” “Juke Box Hero” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

The hall’s organizers had wanted to include Gramm in the 2012 edition, but some kind of a communication breakdown — either Gramm didn’t get the word in time, or Gramm didn’t get back to the committee, it depends who you ask — resulted in him not being inducted until Sunday. That’s an oversight that some compared to if Babe Ruth had been left out of the first class of inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The night got off to a slamming start with gospel versions of Son House’s “John the Revelator,” followed by the green-and-white robed Elim Christian Fellowship Sanctuary Choir on House’s “Mighty Good God.” Two bluesmen who knew House — John Mooney, who grew up in Mendon, and longtime Rochester treasure Joe Beard — headlined the full tribute to House later in the show.

Eastman’s induction, as with all of the inductees, opened with a biographical video. In her induction speech, Betty Strasenburgh recalled how Eastman, in spite of all of his philanthropic endeavors on behalf of culture in Rochester, called himself “a musical moron.” But he did love music, and the audience was treated to some of his favorites: A string quartet, organ music (the world’s largest residential pipe organ is being rebuilt in the Eastman House) and a trio of dancers performing a routine that likely wasn’t common in Eastman’s day: “Boy meets girl, girl loses boy to another girl, boy loses girl to another girl.”

Palvino and Nickson were primarily known for their work with WBBF-FM. Nickson was not feeling well enough to attend the event, but Palvino covered for both of them.

This is really BBF that is being inducted,” he announced in a funny acceptance speech that named names, relished old radio pranks and recalled when gas was 25 cents a gallon.

I never felt like I worked a day in my life,” Palvino said. “A couple of my old bosses might agree.”

Miller, who died in 2010, was represented by musical guest Bob McGrath singing pop standards —”Whenever I see Your Smiling Face” — that might have been heard on Miller’s old show, Sing Along With Mitch. But it was a video tribute by Leslie Uggams that really resonated.

I know a lot of people didn’t get along with Mitch,” she conceded, but went on to say that Miller had refused to remove her from the show even though some television stations in the South refused to carry a show featuring an African-American performer.

He did his Civil Rights when it came to me,” she said.

The Rochester Music Hall of Fame board has said it is in no hurry to find a brick-and-mortar home for the 17 honorees, choosing to bide its time by building a solid core of inductees.