Visionary | Alumni Profile

I’m very, very proud: I’m the first lawyer that’s ever been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and it’s really very important to me.

Legend Maker

Allen Grubman ’67


The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 2022 inductees features iconic performers, including Dolly Parton and Eminem, as well as someone known instead for his work behind the scenes of the entertainment industry: Allen J. Grubman ’67.

For decades, Grubman has been one of the most revered names in entertainment law, with a blue-chip client list that includes Lady Gaga, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Martha Stewart, Robert DeNiro, and LeBron James.

But the story of how Grubman co-founded the Hall of Fame, where he remains the secretary and treasurer, is less well known. It all started in 1983, when Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun invited him to lunch at Pearls Chinese Restaurant, revealing only that “it’s important for you to be there because of the fact that you’re a lawyer,” recalled Grubman, senior partner at Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks.

Also on the guest list: Seymour Stein, co-founder of Sire Records, the first label to sign Madonna; Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner; and a young woman who was not in the entertainment business but who would run the Hall of Fame, Suzan Evans. Back then, Pearls served the best Chinese food in Manhattan, and Grubman—who relishes a good restaurant meal and has had dishes named after him—arrived with an appetite.

“I proceeded to order a double order of spare ribs, and I’m sitting there eating these spare ribs and loving it and loving it, and sort of listening to what Ahmet was saying but not really focusing, and then all of a sudden, I heard him say, ‘You know there’s a Baseball Hall of Fame, there’s a Football Hall of Fame, there is a Basketball Hall of Fame, but you know what? There has never been a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.’ And that is the precise moment when the Hall of Fame was created,” Grubman said. “Never could we have imagined at that luncheon how this institution would have grown and become as important and as historic as it would become.”

Listen to Allen Grubman ’67 recall how a business lunch he attended in Manhattan was the start of something extraordinary in the world of rock and roll.

Looking back, Grubman is proud that Ertegun saw his potential. “Ahmet always believed that I was going to do well, and I did, and he wanted a young lawyer rather than one of the old pros at that time, and it turned out to be a very important piece of my life,” he said.

When Grubman opened his own law firm in 1975, it was with a “bridge table, a bridge chair, and a telephone,” and he started out representing initially obscure disco acts that hit it big, including the Village People. By 1983, he was representing Madonna, Elton John, and Bruce Springsteen. Today, his firm, with 50 attorneys—all with proper desks, he jokes—is the largest U.S. media law firm, encompassing sports, entertainment, movies, TV, and Broadway, with clients including actors, athletes, and media personalities.

“The entertainment industry is a very small community,” Grubman said. “It isn’t like real estate law or corporate law; it’s a small community with a small group of people, and if you do well, you can do very well, but you can’t fake it. If you’re really good, people know you’re good, and they come to you. And if you’re not, the opposite happens.”

One of the first tasks for the Hall of Fame founders was to choose the inductees from among the “greatest artists of the ’50s and ’60s,” Grubman said. Names like Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and James Brown were on the list. The first dinner, held in 1986 at the Waldorf Astoria, had musicians, including Billy Joel, introducing the inductees, and at the end, the musicians would go on stage and all play together. Unlike today, when the event is televised on HBO, the media were not in attendance.

Before the Hall of Fame opened as a museum in 1995, Grubman was involved with the search committee to find a location. Ultimately, the museum, designed by famed architect I.M. Pei, went up in Cleveland.

“New York, L.A., Atlanta, Nashville, all the cities in America that you would think would be music cities, they were not interested,” Grubman said, adding that at the time, city governments feared a museum devoted to rock and roll would attract an unsavory crowd.

“Cleveland, for some reason, was dying to have it. They really reached out, and thought they were in competition with other cities, which was not the case,” Grubman said. “They put together a substantial amount of money [$65 million], and the city was totally behind it. That’s how Cleveland got it.”

Now, nearly four decades after that luncheon, Grubman was inducted into the Hall of Fame at a Nov. 5 induction ceremony where he received the Ahmet Ertegun Award, dedicated to non-performers, in honor of his decades of negotiating successful deals on behalf of his music clients.

“It started with one little meeting and grew into something very special,” Grubman said. “I’m very, very proud: I’m the first lawyer that’s ever been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and it’s really very important to me. It’s an important milestone in my life.”

— Teresa Novellino