Facing the Music: Rock 'n' Roll's Hall of Fame Award
by Jenny E. Beeh

The Beatles. The Beach Boys. Elvis Presley. Simon and Garfunkel. Buddy Holly. Fats Domino. The Supremes. B.B. King. Bob Dylan. Where can you find all of these great artists together in one room? At the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, of course. From Aretha to The Who, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Foundation honors participants in the music industry who have made unique contributions to the "energy and evolution" of rock 'n' roll.

The artists represent a broad spectrum of music, and include early legendary greats as well as artists who are still actively pursuing their careers," says Suzan Evans, executive director of the foundation. "The award represents a person's lifetime achievement as well as their significant contribution to the world of rock."

To help with such an honor, the foundation turned to Chicago-based R.S. Owens & Company, one of the largest manufacturers of upscale awards, to create the unique trophy given to the Hall of Famers."We make most of the high-quality awards," says Owen R. Siegel, owner and CEO, who started the business in 1938. Other awards made by the company include the Emmy, the MTV Music Video Award, the Miss America Award and, of course, the Oscar, given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and arguably the most recognized award in the world.

Located on Chicago's northwest side, R.S. Owens has an 82,000-square-foot full-service manufacturing facility with more than 175 employees. "When it comes to any special award," Siegel says, "we have the talent."

Special Appearance
The company has been making the award since its inception in 1985, says Noreen Prohaska, the R.S. Owens sales representative who handles many of the company's prestige accounts.

To create the trophy, a model was sculpted in clay to match a sketch provided by the Hall of Fame. The form comprises a stylized human figure, its arms reaching over its head to hold a circular disk representing a record. Next, a plaster model was made from the clay design and sent back to the foundation for approval. Once R.S. Owens received the go-ahead nod, the plaster pattern was sent to a Chicago foundry, where hand-finished steel molds were made. "Then you're ready to go into production," Prohaska says of the initial set-up process. The steel dies will last for years - or until a client changes the design.

The award's metal pieces are crafted one at a time by skilled tradespeople, Prohaska says. A 980-degree Fahrenheit zinc alloy is poured into the mold, hardening within seconds. When the form is removed from the mold, its rough edges are sanded down. In preparation for the plating process the award is polished by hand with a buffing wheel to a mirror-like finish so there are no visible seams. As the award heads into preplating, it is degreased in a tank to remove any unwanted coating. Then it's ready to be dipped into four different metal baths: copper, nickel, silver and, finally, black nickel. After a rinse, it's coated with an epoxy lacquer.

The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Award is electroplated in black nickel with a satin finish, complete with a 3x3-1/4-inch gold-plated record. The record disks (which are not cast) are added to the award between the figure's hands and mounted with an adhesive. The figure is then placed on a 3-1/2-inch-square black and white marble base, personalized with a plate that's engraved with the recipient's name. When complete, the trophy stands more than 15 inches high.

Each year, the number of individual trophies R.S. Owens manufactures for the Hall of Famers fluctuates, usually from around 30 to 40, plus some spares, just in case. "The quantity varies depending on the number of people who are inducted each year," Siegel points out. The company also does trophy repair or replacements, if necessary. Siegel recalls one incident early in the award's history when the records held by the trophy figure were made of solid gold. Three heavily celebrating winners managed to misplace the records from their awards during the plane ride home. R.S. Owens replaced the lost discs; now the records are gold-plated.

About six to seven hours of skilled labor go into making each trophy, Prohaska estimates, and along the way the award passes through about eight different departments, ending with shipping. "The greatest thing to me is getting them out the door in time," Prohaska laughs. The finished awards are shipped by truck in a form-fitted shrink-wrapped Styrofoam box. Fully insured, the trophies arrive well before the festivities and are locked in a secured room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, where the Hall of Fame ceremony is held. The company takes pride in the entire process and never loses sight of what the award itself represents. "There's a lot of prestige," Prohaska says. "The recipients are Hall of Famers. For us to participate in that is a great honor."

Let the Good Times Roll
Artists are eligible for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame once after 25 years have passed since the release of their first record. Standards have been high, with only a few artists being inducted each year.

Criteria include the influence and significance of the artist's contribution to the development and perpetuation of rock 'n' roll," Evans says. "Similar criteria are used for the nonperformer category, which includes songwriters, producers, disc-jockeys, record company executives, journalists and other industry professionals." Dick Clark, for example, was inducted in that category.

There is also an "early influence" category, which honors artists - like Louis Armstrong and Hank Williams - whose music came before rock 'n' roll but inspired many of rock's leading artists, therefore contributing significantly to the evolution of the industry, Evans says.
Composed of rock 'n' roll historians and musicologists, the foundation's nominating committee chooses five to seven nominees each year in the performer category. Ballots are then sent to an international voting body of about 1,000 "rock experts," who include industry professionals such as producers, performers, journalists and broadcasters. The artists who receive both the highest number and more than 50 percent of the votes are selected for induction. The nominating committee alone selects the honorees in the nonperformer and early influence divisions.

Organized in 1983, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Foundation held its first induction ceremony in 1986. Since then, more than 140 artists have been honored. This year's inductees included The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, the Mamas and the Papas, Lloyd Price, Santana and Gene Vincent. "The end result is honoring someone who made a contribution to society," Prohaska says. "That makes us very proud."
The Hall of Fame has a permanent exhibit at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. Opened in September 1995, the museum - a $92 million, 150,000-square-foot facility on the shore of Lake Erie - is designed to serve as the epicenter for preserving rock's history.

Part of that preservation includes being home to such memorabilia as John Lennon's Sgt. Pepper uniform, Chuck Berry's electric guitar and Roy Orbison's sunglasses. And, of course, giving people a place to learn about rock 'n' roll's greatest performers. As Evans says: "It's all about preserving and honoring part of our music history."