PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Providence singer Claudia Lennear has grown comfortable behind the scenes. As one of America’s greatest backing singers, Lennear performed in “The Ikettes,” the backing choir for Ike and Tina Turner, she appeared in George Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh,” and on Stephen Stills’ first solo album.
Despite traveling the world, performing on such massive hits as “Proud Mary,” and even touring with The Rolling Stones in 1969, Lennear’s face was not as recognizable as her voice. It wasn’t until 2013, when she starred in the Academy Award-winning documentary “20 Feet From Stardom” that her career as an all-time great backing singer began to be properly recognized.
On Sunday afternoon, though, the spotlight shined on Lennear, as she was among the six inductees in the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.
“I’ve been levitating since I learned” of her induction, Lennear said. “This is the greatest honor I’ve been involved in, and I’ve been in Academy Award-winning projects and Grammy-winning projects. But this is the best of all.”
“It’s home,” the Providence native said of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, which is located inside Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village. “I have family, friends, I spent my formative years here. I’m a product of Rhode Island, even though I live in Los Angeles.”
Lennear on Sunday afternoon was inducted alongside Jon Campbell, Alan Fox, Phil Madeira, Neal and the Vipers, and Rico Turchetti, as each was individually feted as a new inductee into the ever-growing Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.
Formed in 2011, the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating, honoring, and preserving the legacy of Rhode Island musicians, educators, and industry professionals who’ve made significant contributions to both the national and local music scene.
This year’s induction ceremony brought the Hall of Fame’s total to 71 inductees in the Hall’s eight-year history. Eventually, the museum will hold more than 100 displays as well as assorted Rhode Island music history memorabilia and interactive components for visitors to enjoy, officials have said.
Robert Billington, chairman of the Hall of Fame, said the 2019 collection of musicians and artists represented “another great class. We’re blessed that Rhode Island has an abundance of great musicians who have done great things all over the world.”
“As long as Rhode Island keeps producing great music, we are going to keep honoring it,” Billington said. “Rhode Island has a great musical family. They all compete in the field but they’re all family.”
Rick Bellaire, vice chairman of the Hall of Fame, said the 2019 class was “out of this world.”
“It shows you the depth of the talent pool in Rhode Island. There’s so many different genres, an incredible amount of talent is homegrown here in Rhode Island,” Bellaire said. “I’m proud to preserve and honor them.”
Jon Campbell, of South Kingstown, was inducted for what Hall officials described as a history of writing about what he knew – coastal Rhode Island. With subjects such as regional cuisine, tourists, swamp Yankees, commercial fishing, politics, and local history, he produced four solo albums. His work has been archived by the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Rhode Island Historical Society.
Inducted posthumously, pianist, singer, composer and music educator Alan Fox came to Providence from Boston in the 1980s. He was the founder and director of The Music School Inc., a non-profit community organization which merged with the Rhode Island Philharmonic in 2000 to become the orchestra’s main educational outlet based in East Providence. Fox continued as director until 1997 as plans for the merger were beginning to take shape. The Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School has continued its progress with 1,500 students involved in private lessons and ensembles of various sizes and styles. Fox passed away in 2008.
Musician, songwriter, and producer Phil Madeira, of Barrington, began his career in contemporary Christian music in the late 1970s with the Phil Keaggy Band. After moving to Nashville in 1983, he quickly established himself as a first-call keyboardist and guitarist, on stage and in the studio, and also as a songwriter. He’s toured or recorded with the likes of Amy Grant, Buddy and Julie Miller, and Michael W. Smith, and he has been a member of Emmylou Harris’ band, The Red Dirt Boys, since 2008. His songs have been recorded by Alison Krauss, Toby Keith, Ricky Skaggs, Bruce Hornsby, Garth Brooks, and Keb’ Mo’. He won a Grammy Award in 2014 for co-writing “From This Valley,” a single from The Civil Wars.
Guitarist Neal Vitullo of Warren and vocalist/harmonica player Dave Howard of Warwick formed Young Neal and The Vipers in the early 1980s to concentrate on performing the hard-driving blues-roots material they’d begun writing together. They quickly became a local sensation and released their first single in 1985. The Vipers’ popularity exploded in the northeast and they soon became regulars at Manhattan’s prestigious Lone Star Cafe. The band signed with Atlantic Records in 1989. In 1990, The Vipers had their first international feature in Guitar World and Vitullo was hailed for his virtuosic playing. The band’s latest album, “One Drunken Kiss,” was released in 2018 to international critical acclaim and Vitullo was recognized by Vintage Guitar as one of the finest guitarists of his generation.
At age 13 in 1930, Americo Turchetti of Providence began to study the Hawaiian steel guitar. By the time he was 18, “Rico” was a full time musician. In 1940, he invented the pedal steel guitar. By the time he was drafted in 1944, there were four pedals on Turchetti’s instrument, allowing him to raise and lower the pitch on several strings. He was seen by thousands performing with this guitar in Hawaii and in Japan during the Allied occupation. By 1952, Turchetti’s guitar had eight foot pedals and he became a contestant on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts television show. By the time Sho-Bud and Fender began manufacturing pedal steels in 1957, he had 17 years of performing internationally and on television under his belt and had been seen and heard by millions. Turchetti passed away in 2005 and he was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2006.
Following Sunday’s unveiling ceremony, the newly-minted Hall of Famers took to the stage for a special induction concert at The Met. Madeira was joined on stage by his bandmates from Emmylou Harris’ band, The Red Dirt Boys. Lennear also sang, and the afternoon was closed out with Neal and the Vipers bringing on stage more than one dozen of their former members to jam.