Warwick writer is first non-musician in Music Hall of Fame


The Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF) held a press conference last Friday to announce the 2013 inductees who will ceremoniously enter the Hall of Fame on April 28.

For the first time, the list includes a non-musician, Bill Flanagan, a Warwick native who went on to a career in music journalism and programming for MTV. One of the founders of RIMHOF, Rick Bellaire, explained why Flanagan is being honored.

“It has always been part of our mission to recognize behind-the-scenes figures who have played an important role in Rhode Island's musical history. Bill is the first person we chose for this category as he has not only had a stellar career in the industry, but he has always advocated for Rhode Island musicians and continues to do so.”

As for Flanagan, he said he’s honored to be included and expects that he’ll do a little bragging to his old friends in Apponaug the next time he’s in town.

“I was in Rhode Island recently and went to the Crow’s Nest with some old friends,” said Flanagan last Friday. “I go back as often as I can. My sister still lives here in the old family house.”

Bill is the son of the late Dr. William Flanagan, a Warwick teacher and one of the founders of the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI). Bill Flanagan was born in 1955 and graduated from Toll Gate High School and then graduated from Brown University in 1977.

He has written for the Brown Daily Herald, the Providence Journal, the Boston Globe, Rolling Stone and many other publications, mostly related to music. Books he has published include, “Written in My Soul” (1986); “Last of the Moe Haircut” (1986); “U2: At the End of the World” (1995); and three novels, “A&R” (2000), “New Bedlam” (2007) and “Evening’s Empire” (2010).

As editorial director of MTV Networks, Flanagan oversees the series “VH1 Storytellers” and “CMT Crossroads.” He has also worked on “VH1's Legends,” “VH1 Archive,” “Hotel MTV” and many other series and specials. He was one of the producers of “The Concert for New York City” after the Sept. 11 attacks and has produced, co-produced or executive produced two televised concerts from the White House, “The Beatles Revolution” for ABC, “Elvis Lives” for NBC, and VH1 specials with Garth Brooks, Paul McCartney, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Springsteen and Oprah Winfrey. Flanagan acts as ombudsman of the Sundance Channel series “Spectacle: Elvis Costello with...” He also appears on air as an essayist on “CBS News Sunday Morning.”

“I actually got my start with John Howell at the Warwick Beacon,” remembered Flanagan. “Wrote a rather long piece, about five pages worth, and John encouraged me to take it to another publication that could give it the space it needed, so I did.”

The rest, as they say, is history and it has earned Flanagan recognition as a significant figure in Rhode Island’s musical history.

Bellaire said you can expect to see nominations for many others in this category, such as record producers and record company owners who promoted their artists to the major labels; venue owners and booking agents who gave opportunities to Rhode Island musicians to perform original music, often giving them opening slots before a national act; and authors who have documented our musical history and provided national exposure for Rhode Island artists.

Besides Flanagan, the Hall of Fame's other 2013 inductees are: Steve Smith and The Nakeds; The Cowsills; Paul Geremia; Eddie Zack and The Hayloft Jamboree; Bobby Hackett; Jimmie Crane; Sissieretta Jones; and George M. Cohan.

Since 1973, Steve Smith, of Smithfield, has been barnstorming the country with his 10-piece horn band, The Nakeds, playing his personal brand of rock 'n' roll.

Originally known as Naked Truth, the band's 1984 indie hit “I'm Huge (And The Babes Go Wild)” was featured on “Family Guy.” The YouTube video for the song has seen almost 400,000 hits.

From Bannister’s Wharf in Newport, The Cowsills carried their pop harmonies to the world in the 1960s and '70s with three Top-10 hits and another nine Billboard charts making them one of the most successful Rhode Island acts of all time. Brothers Bill, Bob, Barry and John added their mom, Barbara, sister Susan and brother Paul for their second album. After pursuing successful solo careers in the '80s and '90s, the group reformed in 1999 for an album under Bob's direction and re-established itself as a major concert attraction. The Cowsills are pioneers of “Sunshine Pop.”

Loreto Fraieli, known professionally as Jimmie Crane, was the dean of Rhode Island songwriters in the modern era. He found early success in the 1930s and '40s with Glenn Miller's “It's Great To Be An American” (co-written with another Rhode Islander, Ray Muffs). In the 1950s and into the 1970s he wrote for Eddie Fisher, Doris Day, Al Martino and Bobby Vinton. Perhaps his best-known song is “Hurt,” which was a hit for Roy Hamilton in 1954, Timi Yuro in 1961 and Elvis Presley in 1976.

Providence-born trumpeter and cornetist Bobby Hackett was one of the greatest improvisers in the history of jazz. His career spanned six decades (1930s-1970s) and encompassed every style from New Orleans traditional to big band swing to easy listening in the 1950s. He played with Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Louis Armstrong considered Bobby his only equal.

Sissieretta Jones, of Providence, was one of the greatest sopranos in the world at the turn of the last century. She was one of the first to break the color barrier in opera and was the first African-American to perform at Carnegie Hall. She toured the world and was honored around the globe. Sissieretta is the subject of a major biography published in 2012. The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society dedicated a plaque for her homestead in Providence.

The Zackarian family, of Providence – Eddie Zack, his brother Cousin Richie, and their sisters, Babs and Maril, pioneered the country and western music scene in Rhode Island and were major players introducing it to the Northeast in the 1940s and '50s for Decca and Columbia. They did a nationally broadcast radio program originating in Providence. Eddie and Richie have passed away, but the tradition continues with Babs and Maril and Eddie's daughter, Dotty Zack.

The Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame was formed in 2011 to celebrate, honor and preserve the legacy of Rhode Island musicians, educators and professionals who have made contributions to the national and Rhode Island music scene. 2012 inductees were John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band; Roomful of Blues; Dave McKenna; Eileen Farrell; Oliver Shaw; Ken Lyon; Anders and Poncia; and Gerry Granahan.

The gallery for the RIMHOF is at Hope Artiste Village. The museum will eventually hold more than 100 displays and assorted memorabilia.

“As the organization grows,” said Chairman Robert Billington, “the Hall of Fame will be committed to developing programs and services aimed at promoting and strengthening Rhode Island’s current and future music scene and ensuring that music continues to play an important role in the lives of all Rhode Islanders.”

Proceeds of the ceremonies go toward creating displays, acquiring memorabilia and digitizing the collection for permanent online access. The RIMHOF is an all-volunteer organization.

Bellaire said the list of nominees was prepared by a nominating committee and submitted to the board, which confirms the nomination.

Day and evening events will be held on Sunday, April 28 at the Met and Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door for the evening ceremony event and $10 in advance or at the door for the afternoon ceremony event. Tickets can be purchased at www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com starting Jan. 26.


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