Spotlight Central
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Spotlight Central

“Greetings from Asbury Park!” The NJ Hall of Fame’s 11th Annual Red Carpet Induction Ceremony

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

It’s Sunday, October 27, 2019, and even though it’s drizzling, folks at the world-famous Asbury Park, NJ boardwalk can’t help but stop and stare at such well-known celebrities as Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander, NY Giant Bart Oates, US Olympic Gymnast Laurie Hernandez, television personality Martha Stewart, Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin, and Jersey rockers, The Smithereens.

All arrive at 1300 Ocean Ave. and traverse the long red carpet outside the Paramount Theatre, on their way to be honored tonight as members of the “Class of 2018” at the New Jersey Hall of Fame’s 11th Annual Red Carpet Induction Ceremony.

Since its inception, the New Jersey Hall of Fame has recognized a wide variety of former and current residents of the Garden State for their contributions to New Jersey and the world.

Back in 2008, The Hall’s first class of inductees included fifteen New Jersey luminaries ranging from Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein to Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep. Since then, the Hall has gone on to honor such additional prominent Garden State residents as Walt Whitman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Woodrow Wilson, Count Basie, Frankie Valli, Christopher Reeve, and many more

As the Class of 2018 honorees — in addition to a number of well-known presenters and speakers this evening — walk the red carpet into the Paramount Theatre, they stop to chat with fans, conduct interviews with the media, and smile for photos.

It is here we take a moment to chat with one of tonight’s award presenters, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean.

When asked to share his thoughts about the New Jersey Hall of Fame, Kean declares, “It’s terrific! We’ve always had great people from New Jersey — and now we recognize it. It’s wonderful.”

We also chat with one of tonight’s honorees, world-renown photographer, Timothy White.

We ask White how growing up in New Jersey affected his career, to which he replies, “There’s something about this state, which was formed by immigrants. There’s this strong sense of self that gets carried forward with everyone here — and it’s obvious given how many people who come from this state have gone on to become so well known.”

Accompanying White on the red carpet is his guest, singer Michael Bolton, who tells us, “I’m from Connecticut, but I have a lot of dear friends from Jersey — Timothy White being one of my dearest — he’s the best photographer in the world.”

Continuing, “This is a great night here in Jersey!” Bolton adds, “I love the crowd here and I also love Jersey,” recalling, “I’ve been performing here myself for over 25 years.”

Lastly, we chat with one of tonight’s performers and presenters, singer Darlene Love.

When asked if she’s ready for tonight’s big event, Love exclaims, “I’m ready! It’s going to be fun. I’ll be opening the show with businessman and musician Tim McLoone, who is also being honored tonight — and it’s going to be great!”

As the clock nears 7pm, honorees, presenters, speakers, and guests make their way into the historic Paramount Theatre where the Hall of Fame induction ceremony is about to commence. The sold-out venue is already packed to the rafters with Jersey fans ready to celebrate the deserving members of the Class of 2018.

Darlene Love opens the evening’s festivities by singing “Among the Believers.”

Crooning, We are poets, we’re soldiers/We’re children of the night,” Love’s rich resonant voice rises above the rocking sound as she’s accompanied by The Kings of Suburbia along with Class of 2018 honoree Tim McLoone on keyboards.

The audience cheers, and Love segues into her second number, “River Deep — Mountain High.” The crowd claps along to this feel-good music as it fills the theater and puts everyone in a celebratory mood.

Tonight’s host — Emmy-award winning TV journalist Jack Ford — welcomes the crowd declaring, “Greetings from Asbury Park!”

“Tonight’s inductees into the New Jersey Hall of Fame all have different backgrounds,” explains Ford, “but the common thread is that their home — where all of their stories began — was New Jersey,” before concluding, “This induction ceremony is a night of storytelling, music, and celebration.”

Here, Ford introduces New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and his wife, Tammy Murphy, who take the stage.

The couple tells the crowd of many firsts here in New Jersey including “the first light bulb… movies… and bubblewrap,” before inducting educator Elizabeth Allen and businesswoman Mary Roebling into the NJHOF’s Class of 2018.

Governor Murphy also inducts pro football player Bart Oates into the Hall of Fame.

The crowd cheers for the football legend and his gracious acceptance speech. Not originally from the Garden State, Oates reveals, “I chose to live here in New Jersey,” the place where he decided to raise his family. Concludes Oates, “Living in New Jersey has enriched all of our lives.”

Dr. Mehmet Oz, star of TV’s The Dr. Oz Show, takes the stage to induct businesswoman, writer, and television star, Martha Stewart.

Saying, “She changed the world for women,” Oz notes, “New Jersey is about resiliency” — or as he suggests Martha herself might say — “You always have to have a plunger with you, because life is messy.”

Martha Stewart accepts her award, talking about growing up in New Jersey.

Born in Jersey City but raised in Nutley from the age of three, Martha recalls, “I learned how to bake, cook, and garden from my family and neighbors,” in a town where she even “baby-sat for the kids of Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle.”

Comments Stewart, “Nutley was a microcosmic glimpse of my life in the future,” before concluding, “Thanks, New Jersey.”

Former Governor Tom Kean, a New Jersey Hall of Fame Class of 2013 recipient himself, presents an award to New Jersey construction contractor J. Fletcher Creamer, Sr., joking that Creamer’s company — J. Fletcher Creamer & Sons — and New Jersey were “perfect together.”

He also presents an award to Dr. Victor Parsonnet, a surgeon, philanthropist, and patron of the arts who is also Board Chairman Emeritus of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Upon accepting his award, Dr. Parsonnet, age 95, gratefully acknowledges the crowd saying, “This is overwhelming; it’s an incredible honor.”

Bass player and founding member of the E Street Band, Garry Tallent, takes to the podium to introduce Jersey rock and rollers, The Smithereens.

After referring to them as “friends who share a love of music and guitars,” the crowd goes wild with hoots, hollers, cheers, and applause for The Smithereens.

Guitarist Jim Babjak, drummer Dennis Diken, and bassist Mike Mesaros — along with Liza, daughter of the group’s late singer/songwriter Pat DiNizio — take the stage to accept their awards.

Whereas Babjak says, “We wouldn’t be here without our family, friends and fans,” Diken declares, “Thank you to everyone who stood with us for 40 years,” before thanking all of “the teachers who taught us how to think outside of the box.” Lastly, Mesaros — currently a resident of California — pays tribute to his home state of New Jersey when he acknowledges, “Carteret formed our sensibilities.”

Singer Jon Bon Jovi presents tonight’s next award to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ lead singer, songwriter, and harmonica player — Johnny Lyon, aka Southside Johnny.

Declares Bon Jovi, “I always wanted to be an Asbury Juke! Those guys made Asbury Park a place where the impossible seemed possible.”

Continuing, “John is real — he wouldn’t play the game by anybody else’s rules,” Bon Jovi addresses Lyon personally telling him, “Thank you for the music and for being you.”

The crowd cheers for Southside who takes the podium to state, “I am very proud to be from New Jersey. There used to be jokes about New Jersey on Johnny Carson’s TV show, but that only made me stronger and more aggressive and work my a** off.”

Continuing, “Thank you, New Jersey — thanks to the fans, and to my mother and father,” Lyon recalls, “They came home from work and played music loud, and danced. Music was important — it was one of the joys of their lives,” before looking directly into the audience and noting with a smile, “Who’d a thought?”

Accompanied by the Kings of Suburbia, Southside Johnny and Jon Bon Jovi perform on stage together for the first time in 37 years. Singing, “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” Southside’s trademark bluesy smoky voice fills the auditorium as he shares the lead with Bon Jovi.

The crowd roars, and by the end of the song, the two friends hug one another to sustained hoots, hollers, and cheers from the audience.

After Jack Ford says, “It doesn’t get any better than that!” he introduces author Harlen Coben who presents the late Peter Benchley’s award to the famed author’s wife, Wendy Benchley.

“Wow! Thank you, New Jersey Hall of Fame,” says Wendy Benchley. “Peter loved his life of writing and his ocean adventures,” going on to explain how Peter — who left his job as a speechwriter for President Lyndon B. Johnson — went to work in a “repair shop in Pennington, NJ” where he wrote his most famous book, Jaws.

NY Giant Harry Carson accepts his award — dedicating it to his mother, Gladys Carson, who taught him “to be nice and compassionate to all people — except on the football field.”

Then, astronaut Buzz Aldrin and NJHOF Board of Trustees Chairman Emeritus John Keegan take the stage to tell the audience about the permanent home of the New Jersey Hall of Fame which, they reveal, will be housed in the new American Dream complex located in the Meadowlands.

After Keagon notes, “There will be a virtual reality journey from Jersey to space and the moon,” Aldren exclaims, “I hope it is a comfortable and a smooth ride!” before acknowledging, “The idea behind the Hall of Fame is to inspire the next generation of teachers, scientists, musicians, business people, and astronauts.”

Former Rutgers University and Tampa Bay Buccaneer football coach Greg Schiano accepts sportswriter Jerry Izenberg’s award on his behalf.

Reading word-for-word from a letter written by Izenberg, Schiano says, “I’m a member of 15 Halls of Fame, but this is the one that means the most to me,” before concluding, “New Jersey is where my dreams morphed into memories.”

Gymnast Laurie Hernandez — the youngest inductee in the New Jersey Hall of Fame — takes to the podium to accept her award. Although only 19 years of age, Hernandez has not only won gold and silver medals in the Olympics, but is also a winner of television’s Dancing with the Stars.

Born and raised in Old Bridge, Hernandez reveals that one of her favorite things about New Jersey are “diners,” before confessing that her brother recently texted her at midnight, “asking if I wanted to go to Wawa.”

Expressing her feelings about the people of New Jersey, Hernandez says, “I feel we are a big family,” before warmly concluding, “This state is always going to be home for me.”

Following large applause, Darlene Love and Tim McLoone retake the podium where Love presents McLoone with his New Jersey Hall of Fame award.

After Love introduces the restauranteur, sports journalist and commentator, and musician as a “Renaissance man,” McLoone accepts his trophy revealing, “I said I would cut my acceptance speech short if I could perform with my friends.”

Here, McLoone and his band perform “Learning to Fly” assisted by five young adults with disabilities who take the stage in wheel chairs.

The audience leaps to its feet for McLoone and this special group of performers.

Next, actress, comedian, author, and TV personality Whoopi Goldberg steps to the podium to introduce photographer Timothy White.

Saying, “His work is so stunning it brings tears to your eyes,” Goldberg acknowledges she’s known White for over thirty years, calling him “incredibly talented,” “one of a kind,” and “one of the extraordinary eyes on the planet.”

White has the crowd in stitches as he tells them about an advertising campaign he and Goldberg worked on together for a “women’s light bladder protection problem.”

Then White gets more serious when he discusses his working process, explaining, “When I’m creating my pictures, I’m definitely on” and adhering to what he refers to as New Jersey’s unofficial “motto” — “You can be whatever you want to be in life if you work hard enough.”

White is followed by Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin who enchants the audience with stories about his childhood growing up in the Garden State.

Recalling, “I wrote my first stories in Bayonne,” Martin explains, “We couldn’t have cats or dogs in the projects, so I had dime store turtles, but they kept dying, so I made up a story they were murdering each other. Turtle Castle was one of my first stories, and, as a result, to this day I wear a turtle on my hat or coat.”

Continuing, “Everything I achieved all began in Bayonne,” Martin acknowledges, “I come back regularly to Bayonne to see my family,” before concluding, “Thomas Wolf said, ‘You can’t go home again,’ but Thomas Wolf never lived in New Jersey!”

After being introduced by his high school drama teacher, Robert Lampf — actor Jason Alexander accepts his award joking, “This is great for me, but I don’t know what it does for New Jersey.”

Alexander thanks the people of New Jersey for his “amazing public school education,” before talking about various Jersey experiences from his youth including working at the Livingston Mall at Spencer Gifts, Puppy Palace, and Baskin Robbins, and beginning his performing career with the Garden State’s Pushcart Players and at Millburn’s Paper Mill Playhouse.

After thanking his drama director “for his support and encouragement,” Alexander thanks his children, and with tears in his eyes, also thanks his wife, Dana.

Closing by reminding the Jersey crowd about the words written on the Great Seal of New Jersey, “Liberty and Prosperity,” Alexander says, “I wish you peace, health, happiness, and a dollop of love, as well.”

At this point, Jack Ford reintroduces The Smithereens who, along with singer Marshall Crenshaw, take the stage to perform a dynamic rendition of their hit, “Blood and Roses.” The Jersey crowd calls out its approval as the band casts a spell over the audience with their hypnotic sound.

Babjak plays a smooth and gritty guitar solo and Mike Mesaros and Dennis Dijek rock out on bass and drums as Crenshaw and the band members sing, “I want to love, but it comes out wrong/I want to live, but I don’t belong,” their energy intense as they light up the stage.

Then, Robin Wilson from the band, Gin Blossoms, joins the group as guest vocalist on “A Girl Like You.” As he sings, audience members make their way down front, and the musicians inch ever closer to the edge of the stage. Moving instinctively to the music, the crowd becomes a dancing sea of fans and musicians all bopping to the beat.

Even more singers and instrumentalists take the stage for an impromptu performance of The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.” Tim McLoone and Marshall Crenshaw take turns singing the verses as everyone in the house joins in on the “How could I dance with another/Ooh/When I saw her standing there” refrain. The band drives the song forward with keyboards, guitars, bass, drums, a five-piece horn section, backup vocalists, and lead vocalists. All working together having a great time, the audience sings and rocks right along with the musicians as only those in Jersey can.

For the grand finale, all of tonight’s honorees and presenters are invited back onto the stage for a group performance of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” the song building intensely until everyone is singing along.

A fitting ending to a star studded night in Jersey, it seems clear that a number of the honorees, presenters, speakers, guests, and audience members are already looking forward to next year’s celebration of New Jersey’s finest at the 12th Annual Red Carpet Induction Ceremony for the New Jersey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.

To learn more about the New Jersey Hall of Fame, please go to njhalloffame.org.

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