A unique group of musicians and celebrities — including Tommy James, Wyclef Jean, Kelly Ripa and Steven Van Zandt — sang, danced and/or played guitar on James’ ’60s hit “Mony Mony” at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park last night. The occasion was the induction ceremony for the 2016 class of the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
James, Jean and Ripa were among the inductees, as were boxer Chuck Wepner, actor Ray Liotta, newswoman Connie Chung and others. Van Zandt, who performed with his Disciples of Soul band at the Paramount on April 22, returned to the venue to give the induction speech for James.
The hall’s ninth annual induction ceremony’s grand finale was “Mony Mony,” but the evening also included a short set by James, performing two of his other hits (“Draggin’ the Line” and a slowed down “I Think We’re Alone Now”); Jean’s performance of the Bob Marley-written standard “No Woman, No Cry”: and a tribute to past hall inductee Whitney Houston by JaQuita May (singing “How Will I Know”). Glen Burtnik led the house band.
Jean added some special lyrics to “No Woman, No Cry,” singing “Everything’s gonna be all right/New Jersey’s in the house tonight” in the chorus, and rapping, “In high school I used to bring the pain/Check it out, I’m in the Jersey Hall of Fame.”
Ripa was inducted by her father, Joe Ripa, and brought a film crew from “Live! with Kelly and Ryan” with her to film a segment that ran on today’s show. She was so excited she ran across the stage, in high heels, to make her speech.
She also came up with the funniest line of the evening. “I know that most of my family came here to see Ray Liotta in person … I get it,” she said.
In his own acceptance speech, Liotta stated, oddly, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be in the New Jersey Hall of Fame.” I guess he can only remember back to 2008. (Update: A helpful reader has informed me that this referred back to his character’s line in “Goodfellas,” “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” But it still seems to me to be an odd thing to say when the Hall is only 9 years old.)
Tommy James, like many hall inductees, is not a Garden State native. “I was born in Ohio and raised in Michigan, but adopted by Jersey,” he explained in his acceptance speech. “My wife and I have lived here for 45 years, at first in Clifton, and then in Cedar Grove, and we really have grown deep roots here.”
Van Zandt said of James: “The simple fact is, he has one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll voices of all time … dramatic yet personally expressive at the same time. Fantastic.”
Jean talked about cleaning hotel kitchens and bathrooms with his father, when he was a teenager, and remembered his father telling him: “Don’t forget, this is what being an immigrant is about. This is what these United States is about. As long as you do something with pride, as long as you believe in it, as long as you don’t break the law, it gives you an opportunity to be somebody.”
Jean also talked about hearing a cover band, at one of those hotels, playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” “It’s such an honor, because I’m a Bruce Springsteen freak, to know that Bruce Springsteen is in the New Jersey Hall of Fame, and I can be next to him,” he said.
Jean also said that when was a student at Vailsburg High School in Newark, “What changed my life was a music teacher by the name of Valerie Price. I want everyone … to understand that the power of music and sports in the schools is very important … that we make sure we hold our powers-that-be accountable to giving legislation that actually protects these programs in the schools.”
Other honorees included novelist Carol Higgins Clark (inducted by her mother, novelist Mary Higgins Clark), Bell Atlantic and PSE&G executive Alfred Koeppe, NY Waterway founder Arthur Imperatore, the late activist known as Peace Pilgrim (Mildred Lisette Norman), 19th century military leader Philip Kearny, basketball player Carol Blazejowski, and Valerie Fund co-founders Sue and Ed Goldstein,
For hall information, visit njhalloffame.org.