LOS ANGELES - Surprise presenter Oprah Winfrey gave Quincy Jones a huge hug. Jack Nicholson, Herb Alpert and a tearful Michelle Phillips huddled at Lou Adler's table. Randy Newman got big laughs. And everyone rocked out to Public Enemy's raucous set.
But the night belonged to Rush, the Canadian prog-rock trio that's been waiting for an invitation since 1998.
They arrived as the headliner. The band drew deafening applause at Thursday's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in the Nokia Theatre.
Rush's entry into the elite institution was also a people's choice award. For the first time, fans were invited to cast votes (with their votes constituting a single ballot among the 500-plus submitted by artists, historians and music industry professionals), and Rush won handily.
Their fans packed the house, chanting for their heroes from the evening's outset, then exploding into cheers when the band finally took the stage for a paint-peeling performance of Tom Sawyer and The Spirit of Radio.
Dave Grohl, who rattled off every Rush album title in chronological order, inducted the musicians, saying, "From day one, the band built its following the right way. No hype, no (baloney), they did it from the ground up without any help from the mainstream press ...Their influence is undeniable and their devoted fan base is only rivaled by the Grateful Dead. Look at you people, all of you people, right here! And their legacy is that of a band that stayed true to themselves no matter how uncool they may have seemed to anyone."
Drummer Neil Peart said, "We've been saying for a long time, years, that this wasn't a big deal. Turns out, it kind of is."
And in a nod to the role ardent fans played in paving Rush's path to the hall, singer/bassist Geddy Lee thanked "the most passionate, incredible fan base around the globe ...for not only supporting and encouraging our musical progress over the years, but for the insistence of their voices, which has most certainly led us to this evening."
The ceremony, in L.A. for the first time since Cream and The Doors were inducted in 1993, will be broadcast May 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
Artists become eligible 25 years after the release of their first record. Public Enemy entered the hall in its first year of eligibility, but the others have been cooling their heels. Heart, on the ballot the past two years, has been eligible since 2001. First-time nominee Albert King, who died in 1992, was eligible in 1987. Donna Summer, considered in five of the past six years, was eligible in 1999. And Randy Newman, an early rounder in 2005, was eligible in 1990.
The Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-performers went to producers Lou Adler and Quincy Jones.
A rundown of the evening:
Presenter Don Henley of the Eagles called the singer/songwriter's induction "shamefully overdue" and chided the "peculiar, perplexing organization" for delaying his entry 20 years.
Noting that Newman was nominated 15 times before snagging an Oscar, Henley said, "He's a man who's accustomed to waiting."
Henley praised Newman's "wonderful wry self-effacing wit," but said, "there's so much more to Randy's work" than his best-known tunes, I Love L.A. and Short People.
He lauded his love songs, satirical hits and said, "No one has written more bravely about racism, politics and war."
Newman confessed that he expected to be inducted 20 years ago when there was "a flurry of activity" in his career. When it didn't happen, "I did think I was going to have to die and I'd have to watch from below with my relatives."
He added, "I always wanted to be respected by musicians ...This night means a great deal to me."
He returned to the piano to perform I Think It's Going to Rain Today and, accompanied by Henley, the rowdy and humorous I'm Dead But I Don't Know It.
Flavor Flav rambled at length, humorously and incoherently, thanking partner Chuck D "for all the years of writing good records. You've been the motor, man."
Chuck D gave a gracious speech and argued for hip-hop's inclusion in the hall. "For those thinking right now, 'There goes the musical neighborhood,' let us not forget we all come from the damn blues."
The group blasted a medley of Bring the Noise, 911 Is a Joke and Fight the Power.
Nancy told the audience, "For us, music is the real church. It's a life calling ... We're not finished rocking just yet. We say, turn it up."
Ann added, "When I leave this earth, I will look back with love because I got the chance to sing. I never, ever take it for granted."
The pair joined the rest of the band for Crazy on You, Dreamboat Annie and Barracuda.
"I'm pretty sure that me and a lot of you were made to that record," she said.
Summer's husband Bruce Sudano reflected on the singer's resistance to proposals that she record a standards album. "She wanted to create something new at all times," he said.
Jennifer Hudson, in a gold, clingy pantsuit, sang Bad Girls and Last Dance as Flavor Flav danced with Summer's daughters in front of the stage.
Quincy Jones was inducted by an unexpected celebrity, Oprah Winfrey, whom the producer cast in The Color Purple after seeing her local Chicago talk show.In honor of King, guitar sensation Gary Clark Jr. played Oh Pretty Woman and, with Booker T. Jones and Mayer joining him, Born Under a Bad Sign.
"He discovered me for The Color Purple and it changed the trajectory of my life," Winfrey said. "I never wanted anything in my life more than I wanted to be in The Color Purple."
She praised his commitment to music and philanthropy.
"You're a marvel and everyone knows it," she said. "You're a genius. You have the most generous soul of anybody I know on earth. We treasure you. We cherish you. We love you.
"When you work with Quincy Jones, you feel love and you are loved unconditionally. Everyone around him feels his light. He lives life completely on his terms."
Jones spoke at lengt
h about his background, his mentors and influences and his mission to improve music education.
"Every country in the world knows more about our music than we do," he said. Such indigenous strains as blues, jazz and gospel are "the soul of our country. We cannot afford to let this legacy slip into obscurity."
As homage to Jones' work with Michael Jackson, Usher, sporting glittery red loafers, sang Rock With You.
The secret to becoming a successful producer?
"It helps to work with three of the best songwriters of all time: John Phillips, Carole King and Sam Cooke," he said. He thanked his seven sons, "my best productions."
Carole King paid homage to him with a rendition of So Far Away.