Guitarist/singer Eric Clapton said, "I'm very happy and proud" to become the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's first three-time inductee next year, in a terse statement released through his publicist Tuesday (Dec. 7).
Clapton, already in the Hall as a member of the Yardbirds and of Cream, will be inducted for his work as a solo artist. He will lead a gentle, jovial class of 2000, including fellow blues-rocker Bonnie Raitt; R&B band Earth, Wind & Fire; folk-rock band the Lovin' Spoonful; doo-wop group the Moonglows and singer/songwriter James Taylor, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation announced on Tuesday (Dec. 7).
Hard rockers Queen and Aerosmith, nominated for the first time this year, will have to wait at least one more year for their induction.
Jazz singers Billie Holiday and pop singer/pianist Nat King Cole will be inducted as early influences, and Arista Records president Clive Davis, who oversaw the comeback of Santana this year, will be inducted as a non-performer. Davis' selection comes amid recent published reports that Arista's parent company, BMG, is seeking to force his retirement.
"This is my lifetime's dream. I am deeply honored and touched," Davis said in a statement through Arista.
The induction ceremony is scheduled for March 6 in New York.
While Clapton's early career with the Yardbirds and Cream focused on propulsive blues-rock songs and long guitar jams, his solo work throughout the past two decades has leaned toward softer material, including such hit ballads as "Wonderful Tonight" and "Tears in Heaven" (RealAudio excerpt).
"Looking at [Clapton's] body of work ... as a solo performer certainly is self-explanatory in telling why he is deserving of being inducted as a solo performer," said Suzan Evans, the executive director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. "That's the kind of thing the voters look for."
Robert Hull, the executive director of Time-Life Music and one of this year's voters, said that while he was happy that the Lovin' Spoonful made the cut, he wasn't particularly enthusiastic about Clapton's pending induction. He accused other voters of "playing it safe."
"If Clapton could clone himself, they would induct him a fourth time," Hull said.
Evans said more than 800 journalists, musicians, executives and others voted for this year's class. Last year's inductees included Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Curtis Mayfield, the Staples Singers, Paul McCartney, Beatles producer George Martin and Del Shannon.
Other nominees who failed to gain induction included early rocker Richie Valens, jazz rockers Steely Dan, gritty rock poet Lou Reed, R&B vocal group the O'Jays and heavy-metal progenitors Black Sabbath.
Earth, Wind & Fire, led by Maurice White and Philip Bailey, scored a string of funk, soul and disco hits in the 1970s, including "Shining Star" (RealAudio excerpt) and "After the Love Has Gone."
Verdine White, the group's bassist and younger brother of Maurice White, said the members of Earth, Wind & Fire were told about the honor several days ago.
"It kind of raises the bar a little bit on our career. It sort of confirms what our audience that has started with us knew," he said from Paris, where the 14-piece band performed on Tuesday.
Raitt made her reputation in the 1970s with her distinctive slide-guitar playing. She crossed over to mainstream pop success in the late '80s and early '90s, starting with her 1989 album, Nick of Time, which won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
The Lovin' Spoonful fused jug band and folk music into a distinctive brand of folk-rock. From 1965 to 1967, they released seven top-10 singles, including "Do You Believe in Magic" (RealAudio excerpt) and the #1 hit "Summer in the City."
John Sebastian, the Lovin' Spoonful's guitarist and primary songwriter, said in September that he felt his band didn't deserve the honor so much as older artists, whom he called the "architects of this music."
"[Guitarist] Zallie [Yanovsky] called the day we found out [about the nomination], and we talked for just a minute. We're rooting for Harvey [Fuqua] and the Moonglows," Sebastian, 55, said.
The Moonglows, led by Fuqua, recorded the doo-wop classics "Sincerely" and "Ten Commandments of Love" in the 1950s.
Taylor, an acoustic singer/songwriter whose best-known songs include "You've Got a Friend" and "Fire and Rain," has remained a steady seller for 30 years. He began his career recording for the Beatles' Apple Records in the late '60s.
Artists become eligible for the Rock Hall of Fame 25 years after releasing their first record.
For the first time, the Hall of Fame also will include side musicians. The inaugural group of those inductees are saxophonist King Curtis, R&B drummer Earl Palmer, Motown bassist James Jamerson, Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore and session drummer Hal Blaine, whose credits included a number of Beach Boys records.
The Hall of Fame ignited a controversy last year when it inducted Bruce Springsteen but not his backing group, the E Street Band.
(An earlier version of this story was published at 11:30 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 3.)