As a child, Jim Henke loved writing as much as he loved music. He recalls writing stories about his neighbors while growing up in Cleveland. He proudly gave them copies of those stories.
But it wasn’t until he worked on his high school newspaper that Henke decided to study journalism in college. Hearing about OWU from his father’s boss, Henke decided to apply and soon after was a student in journalism professor Verne Edwards’ Journalism 101 course.
“Verne was really focused on making his students good writers,” recalls Henke. Edwards’ critical eye along with Henke’s editorship duties on The Transcript readied him to pursue internships at both The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram during his college weekends and summer vacations. The Plain Dealer followed up by offering Henke a full-time job copy editing after he graduated from OWU.
“Then, I heard that Rolling Stone magazine was about to move from San Francisco to New York, and I sent in my resume,” says Henke. He was offered the position and started as a copy editor.
“My first writing opportunity occurred when Dan Fogelberg came to town and I had an opportunity to interview him,” says Henke. From that point forward, his writing assignments came more frequently, and his music career was on a fast track. In 1979, Henke was asked to open a Los Angeles Rolling Stone bureau. “Punk Rock was big then,” he adds, and his writing reflected the times. Two years later, Henke left LA to be the music editor of Rolling Stone. In the mid-1980s, some people in the music business started the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The original plan was to have a small museum in Manhattan.
“People in Cleveland thought it should be a world-class museum—and in Cleveland,” says Henke. After all, Cleveland deejay Alan Freed first used the words “rock and roll” to describe the music of the ‘50s. And the first rock and roll concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball in 1952, took place in Cleveland. Several musicians, including David Bowie, made their debuts in Cleveland.
“When the city of Cleveland made its bid for the museum, there was backing from both the governor of Ohio and Cleveland’s mayor,” says Henke. Finally, Cleveland was chosen as the museum site. Meanwhile, Henke continued his career journey, accepting a job at Elektra Records as vice president.
“Not long after, I heard that the new museum’s director was looking for a curator,” he recalls. Henke had been one of the editors of “The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll”; he knew the history of that genre as no-one else, and had been the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine—and Henke was born and raised in Cleveland. “I was asked to be curator of the museum in January 1994,” he says. Currently Vice President of Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs, Henke oversees everything you see in the museum, including exhibits, films, and interactives. Attracting around 500,000 visitors each year from the U.S. and 100 countries, the museum has an enormous economic impact on the city. Henke also has written books about John Lennon, Bob Marley, Jim Morrison, and others.
“Rock and Roll has been around for a long time and continues to impact our culture.”