Bonnie Raitt, Earth Wind & Fire Leader Use Rock Hall As Platform

In emotional ceremony, she urges support for ailing musicians while Maurice White talks about illness.

NEW YORK — Maurice White was ailing. Bonnie Raitt appeared healthy.

Yet both chose the occasion of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Monday night to address aging and illness.

White, leader of soul band Earth, Wind & Fire, disclosed last week he is suffering from Parkinson's disease. Diagnosed eight years ago, White stopped touring with the band in the early '90s. His right hand shook as he stood at the podium Monday to accept the band's induction, and it appeared he was straining to smile. He tapped his knee as he sat on a stool and helped sing the band's hits "Shining Star" (RealAudio excerpt) and "That's the Way of the World" but didn't perform during the evening's traditional closing jam.

"It was right on time," White said of his announcement. "It was one of those things. There's no sense in denying it."

White was joined by eight bandmates, including his brother, bassist Verdine White, and singer Philip Bailey. "We're experiencing what every other family would experience," Bailey said.

(For more about the inductions and the ceremony, click here.)

Raitt Challenges Peers

Raitt took her platform as a rock 'n' roll immortal to praise the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation's fund for musicians and their families who need assistance — $100,000 will be donated this year — and to challenge her peers to support aging and sick artists who don't have insurance or the means to support themselves.

"It's great that there's a program for financial assistance," she said. "I'd like to see a lot more money in it donated by artists as well as the industry.

"We need more, more, and we shouldn't have to wait to find out if anyone from King Curtis' family is living," Raitt continued. "They're there. We just don't know where to find them." Curtis, a rock-and-soul saxophone legend who was stabbed to death in New York in 1971, was inducted with Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore, drummer Hal Blaine, drummer Earl Palmer and bassist James Jameson in the hall's first class of sidemen.

A Night of Celebration

The rest of the night was more focused on celebration.

Pop balladeer James Taylor and guitar hero Eric Clapton kept their speeches as short as their haircuts. Taylor, dressed in a gray suit and black turtleneck, appeared bashful, often looking toward the floor during his renditions of "Mexico" and "Fire and Rain" (RealAudio excerpt) and while talking to the media afterward.

Clapton, who wore a yellow necktie to the black-tie affair, closed his eyes solemnly as he performed "Tears in Heaven," his 1992 elegy to his son, Conor, who died in 1991 after falling from the window of a New York apartment. Clapton then smiled as he and his inductor, The Band's Robbie Robertson, traded licks on the blues standard "Further on Up the Road."

The induction of '50s doo-wop group the Moonglows prompted singer Harvey Fuqua to pump his fist and grin.

"I don't know what took so long," Fuqua said. The Moonglows are one of the few early-'50s R&B groups in the hall, with the Platters, the Drifters and the Orioles. The Moonglows are best known for their 1953 hit "Sincerely" (RealAudio excerpt).

Welcome Back ... With Perspective

John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful carried the same nonchalance with him he displayed in September, when his band was nominated to the hall. At that time, he said he couldn't care less if the Spoonful were inducted, and that he was actually rooting for the Moonglows.

"It's wonderful to be inducted," Sebastian, clinging to his antiquated autoharp, said. "But we did this for three years. Harvey and the Moonglows have been doing it for 40. Let's put things in perspective, guys."

The members of the Lovin' Spoonful have traveled different paths since their breakup in 1968 after a short, hit-filled career. The variance showed Monday. Sebastian, who scored a pop hit in 1976 with "Welcome Back" — the theme song to the television sitcom "Welcome Back Kotter" — and now performs with a jug band, the J-Band, looked like a GQ model in his white jacket and black slacks, shirt and shoes. Guitarist Zal Yanovsky, now a restaurateur in Ontario, Canada, looked more casual with his bushy salt-and-pepper beard and a green corduroy suit.

Yet they smiled and looked at each other lovingly as they played "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" and "Do You Believe in Magic" (RealAudio excerpt). Sebastian, leaning into the microphone, croaked more than he sang. But the crowd gave the band a rousing standing ovation.

The smiles carried into the ceremony's finale, the traditional jam session. Natalie Cole, who with sisters Timolin and Casey accepted an early-influence induction on behalf of their late father, Nat "King" Cole, bounced furiously as the behemoth four-guitar, multibass band behind her played "Route 66," a standard introduced in the 1940s by the King Cole Trio. Wearing tight jeans and a feathery red, white and blue sweater, she danced briefly with Spoonful drummer Joe Butler.

Taylor, who brought his acoustic guitar to the noise fest, let loose on "How Sweet It Is," a hit for him and Marvin Gaye.

Next, Earth, Wind & Fire's Bailey performed a faithful version of Al Green's "Love and Happiness." Raitt, with bravado and an elated expression, unleashed her slide guitar midway through.

Clapton ended the jam with another blues standard, Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago." He looked typically smooth as he played a twisting, dizzying solo.