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Rewriting History...

By Gary Wien

We call it rewriting history because New Jersey's true music heritage has been kept in the dark for so long. That's all about to change with the creation of the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame. The museum was officially announced on May 16th at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.

This is not another rock and roll museum. This is a true look at the entire spectrum of artists to come from the Garden State. And the list is pretty damn impressive. You probably know about the obvious ones like Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi and Count Basie but did you know that such legendary artists as Sarah Vaughn, Kool & The Gang, Queen Latifah, George Clinton, Patti Smith, The Misfits, Frankie Valli, and Connie Francis were from Jersey as well. Or what about Whitney Houston, Eddie Rabbit, Melanie, George Antheil, The Bouncing Souls, My Chemical Romance, Thursday, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Lauryn Hill, Trey Anastasio (Phish), Blues Traveler and the Spin Doctors were as well. These are just a few of the artists who have strong connections to New Jersey and the list is growing every day. The New Jersey Music Hall of Fame intends on bringing these artists and their stories to light.

In addition to being home to so many of the world's most popular and influential artists, New Jersey has been the site of numerous firsts throughout history. The first American composers were Francis Hopkinson of Bordentown and James Lyon of Newark. The first American opera was created by William Dunlap of Perth Amboy. Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in Menlo Park while Les Paul invented the electric guitar in Mahwah. Some of the most important record labels in history were started in New Jersey including the very first two labels (Edison Records and Victor Records). And some of the biggest concerts of all-time occured right in our backyard.

With so much history, one might wonder why New Jersey's role in music history hasn't already been told. The answer may lie in the fact that our state is sandwiched between two major cities that have tried laying claim to many of our state's achievements. The museum intends to bring the credit back home.

The New Jersey Music Hall of Fame will be placed in Asbury Park, perfectly situated in the center of the state. Unlike many of the major tourism projects which have been placed on either the far north end of the state or the far south, the museum will be easily acessible for the entire state. It will also attract music fans from New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC and around the world.

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This project will mean jobs, revenue, and prestige not for only Asbury Park and Central New Jersey but the state itself.

"One of the primary goals we have in creating the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame is to install a sense of pride in musicians from the state," explained Gary Wien, president of the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame Foundation. "Too often throughout history artists have been told to say that they were from the New York area or from Philadelphia in an effort to make them seem hipper or more marketable. We believe that once the true story of New Jersey's music history is told artists will no longer be afraid to say they're from the Garden State - they'll be proud to be part of the heritage."

The official announcement on May 16th told the world that the museum was coming but didn't say where it would be placed. The people behind the project have always had one location in mind.

"It has always been our ultimate goal to locate the museum in The Casino building," said Ken Shane, a member of the Board of Directors of the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame. "While we realize that it will be a somewhat complicated process, and will require a great deal of money, we cannot think of a more appropriate venue in the City of Asbury Park for the world class museum that we are planning."

The Casino is currently in very bad shape as shown in the photographs recently taken above. Part of the structure is supposed to be restored by Asbury Partners (the city's master developer) as stated in the redevelopment plan. The area has been marked as part of a planned entertainment zone, so the museum plan would fit right in. Since the announcement many people have been suggesting the Casino as the location.

The original plan for the museum was to be housed in the Casino with the creation of a new performance space. This would be a space unlike any seen on the East Coast or possibly the world. It would be a small (300-400 seat) auditorium with full windows gazing out to the Atlantic Ocean from behind the stage. The performance area would be so magnificient that music fans from all over the world would want to see a show there just as fans visit the Grand Ol' Opry House whether they like country music or not.

Inside the museum would be a mixture of permanent and rotating exhibits each covering a different genre of music. All musical genres will be part of the museum. There will also be many exhibits on the signficant moments in New Jersey music history as well as the inventions created here. Interactive exhibits will appeal to children and adults alike and special educational programs will be made especially for children. Paintings, photographs, sheet music, musical instruments and other memorabilia will be viewed throughout the museum. Music-based films and documentaries will be continuously shown in a small movie theatre. There will also be a section showcasing the great venues of past and present New Jersey.

One of the central pieces of the museum will be the Hall of Fame highlighting the very best and most important members of New Jersey's music history. The Hall of Fame will include musicians, songwriters, music industry professionals (producers, promoters, etc.), and inventors. The actual induction process will be announced later this June. The New Jersey Music Hall of Fame will hold its first induction ceremony at the end of the year. Plans are underway to have the ceremony take place in Atlantic City. Since this is a statewide museum not everything will take place in Asbury Park even though the official museum will be located here.

In addition, the museum will contain a retail store selling museum merchandise as well as records and cds by New Jersey artists. Many of these items will be available only at the museum. A research library that will allow scholars to track the state's history on a level currently unavailable is also being planned.

While the first inductees to the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame are unknown, the name of the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award will be Les Paul. In fact, the award will also be named after the man who has been one of the great ambassadors of music in New Jersey for decades and decades. Les Paul has influenced thousands of artists with his music and changed the face of music forever with his invention of the electric guitar and multi-track recording machine.

The New Jersey Music Hall of Fame has set up an impressive intial list of Board of Directors. The list includes Robert Santelli, a Jersey Shore native who helped create the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and who currently works at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. He is also one of the world's most knowledge music writers with a heavy concentration in rock and roll and the blues. Simon Osborne, a property manager with the National Trust in Liverpool, England. He currently manages the childhood estates of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Bob Benjamin, the founder of the Light of Day Foundation and manager of several artists. Tim McCloone, a successful restaurateur, musician, and founder of Holiday Express. Tony Paligrosi, the co-owner of Starland Ballroom and co-president of Concerts East. Tony is also a great musician himself and a former member of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. Tom Jones, the CEO of the Halo Group, a company that does everything from multimedia to film production to museum design. Lee Mrowicki, the founder of Jersey Artists for Mankind and the former voice of the Stone Pony. Ken Shane, a musician and real estate professional. David J. Mieras, a long-time Jersey Shore music historian. And Gary Wien, the publisher of Upstage Magazine and author of "Beyond the Palace" a look at the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park.

The New Jersey Music Hall of Fame is also very proud to announce the latest addition to the Board of Directors - the legendary Latin Jazz great Chico Mendoza. As the Board of Directors grows, you can expect to see more and more members from other musical genres and from places around the entire state.

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The New Jersey Music Hall of Fame is currently looking for people willing to donate memorabilia. If you have any items that you believe may be of interest to the museum, please contact us.

In addition, the museum is currently embarking on a massive fundraising drive. In order to create a world-class museum, tens of millions of dollars will be needed and every little bit helps. You can send checks made out to the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame to the address listed below or contribute online (PayPal or major credit cards accepted) at www.njmusic.org. Donations are tax-deductible. Museum memorabilia such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. are available on the site as well. All proceeds go to the creation of the museum.

There will be a series of events spread out across the state in the next few months to help raise money. Musicians who are interested in donating their time to performing at a benefit concert should contact the museum and see when are where shows are available. The museum hopes to have strong support from the music community because the two groups should work hand in hand.

Music tourism on the whole has been on the rise throughout the country. In addition to places like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Experience Music Project, regional museums have been sprouting up across America as well. These museums are not thought of as competition but partners in the greater music tourism goal. The New Jersey Music Hall of Fame believes that it will attract the same people who visit places like Graceland, Nashville or Liverpool to learn about their favorite artists. Fans of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi have been coming to New Jersey for decades to see the places that inspired their songs. This museum will give fans of rock, jazz, pop, blues, country, gospel, and bluegrass music a great place to enjoy the state's rich musical history.

The museum is expected to open in Asbury Park in the summer of 2006.

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.

originally published: 06/01/2005



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