The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, recognizes and archives the history of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers, and other notable figures who have had some major influence on the development of rock and roll. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was established on April 20, 1983, by Atlantic Records founder and chairman Ahmet Ertegun. In 1986, Cleveland was chosen as the Hall of Fame’s permanent home. Since opening in September 1995, the “Rock Hall” – part of the city’s redeveloped North Coast Harbor – has hosted more than 10 million visitors and had a cumulative economic impact estimated at more than $1.8 billion.
Foundation and museum
Founder Ahmet Ertegun assembled a team that included attorney Suzan Evans, Rolling Stone magazine editor and publisher Jann S. Wenner, attorney Allen Grubman, and record executives Seymour Stein, Bob Krasnow, and Noreen Woods. The Foundation began inducting artists in 1986, but the Hall of Fame still had no home. The search committee considered several cities, including Philadelphia (home of Bill Haley and American Bandstand), Memphis (home of Sun Studios and Stax Records), Detroit (home of Motown Records), Cincinnati (home of King Records), New York City, and Cleveland.
Cleveland lobbied for the museum, citing that WJW disc jockey Alan Freed both coined the term “rock and roll” and heavily promoted the new genre—and that Cleveland was the location of Freed’s Moondog Coronation Ball, the first major rock and roll concert. In addition, Cleveland cited radio station WMMS, which played a key role in breaking several major acts in the U.S. during the 1970s and 80s, including artist David Bowie, who began his first U.S. tour in the city, Bruce Springsteen, Roxy Music, and Rush among many others. Cleveland was also one of the premier tour stops for most rock bands.
Civic leaders in Cleveland pledged $65 million in public money to fund the construction. A petition drive was signed by 600,000 fans favoring Cleveland over Memphis, and Cleveland ranked first in a 1986 USA Today poll asking where the Hall of Fame should be located. On May 5, 1986, the Hall of Fame Foundation chose Cleveland as the permanent home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Sam Phillips of Sun Studios fame and many others were stunned and disappointed that it ended up in Cleveland. “The hall of fame should’ve been in Memphis, certainly,” wrote Peter Guralnick, author of an acclaimed two-volume Elvis Presley biography.
Cleveland may also have been chosen as the organization’s site because the city offered the best financial package. As The Plain Dealer music critic Michael Norman noted, “It was $65 million… Cleveland wanted it here and put up the money.” Co-founder Jann Wenner later said, “One of the small sad things is we didn’t do it in New York in the first place,” but then added, “I am absolutely delighted that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is in Cleveland.”
During early discussions on where to build the Hall of Fame and Museum, the Foundation’s board considered the Cuyahoga River. Ultimately, the chosen location was along East Ninth Street in downtown Cleveland by Lake Erie, east of Cleveland Stadium.
At one point in the planning phase when a financing gap existed, planners proposed locating the Rock Hall in the then-vacant May Company Building, but finally decided to commission architect I. M. Pei to design a new building. Initial CEO Dr. Larry R. Thompson facilitated I. M. Pei in designs for the site. Pei came up with the idea of a tower with a glass pyramid protruding from it. The museum tower was initially planned to stand 200 ft (61 m) high, but had to be cut down to 162 ft (49 m) due to its proximity to Burke Lakefront Airport. The building’s base is approximately 150,000 square feet (14,000 m2). The groundbreaking ceremony took place on June 7, 1993. Pete Townshend, Chuck Berry, Billy Joel, Sam Phillips, Ruth Brown, Sam Moore of Sam and Dave, Carl Gardner of the Coasters and Dave Pirnerof Soul Asylum all appeared at the groundbreaking.
The museum was dedicated on September 1, 1995, with the ribbon being cut by an ensemble that included Yoko Ono and Little Richard, among others, before a crowd of more than 10,000 people. The following night an all-star concert was held at the stadium. It featured Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, John Fogerty, John Mellencamp, and many others.
In addition to the Hall of Fame inductees, the museum documents the entire history of rock and roll, regardless of induction status. Hall of Fame inductees are honored in a special exhibit located in a wing that juts out over Lake Erie.
Since 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has selected new inductees. The formal induction ceremony has been held in New York City 26 times (1986–92, 1994–96, 1998–2008, 2010–11, 2014, 2016 and 2017); twice in Los Angeles (1993 and 2013); and four times in the Hall of Fame’s home in Cleveland (1997, 2009, 2012 and 2015). Beginning in 2018, the induction ceremonies will alternate each year between Cleveland and New York.
The 2009 and 2012 induction weeks were made possible by a public–private partnership between the City of Cleveland, the State of Ohio, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and local foundations, corporations, civic organizations and individuals. Collectively these entities invested $5.8 million in 2009 and $7.9 million in 2012 to produce a week of events, including free concerts, a gospel celebration, exhibition openings, free admission to the museum, and induction ceremonies filled with both fans and VIPs at Public Hall.
Millions viewed the television broadcast of the Cleveland inductions; tens of thousands traveled to Ohio during induction week to participate in Induction-related events. The economic impact of the 2009 induction week activities was more than $13 million, and it provided an additional $20 million in media exposure for the region. The 2012 induction week yielded similar results.
There are seven levels in the building. On the lower level is the Ahmet M. Ertegun Exhibition Hall, the museum’s main gallery. It includes exhibits on the roots of rock and roll (gospel, blues, rhythm & blues and folk, country and bluegrass). It also features exhibits on cities that have had a major impact on rock and roll: Memphis, Detroit, London and Liverpool, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle. There are exhibits about soul music, the Fifties, Sun Records, Atlantic Records, hip hop music, Cleveland’s rock and roll legacy, the music of the Midwest, rock and roll radio and dee-jays, and the many protests against rock and roll. This gallery also has exhibits that focus on individual artists, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and others. Finally, the Ahmet M. Ertegun Exhibition Hall includes two theaters, one of which features a film about the roots of rock and roll and one that features films on various subjects.
The first floor of the museum is the entrance level. It includes a cafe, a stage that the museum uses for various special performances and events throughout the year, and a section called “Backstage Stories.” The second floor includes several interactive kiosks that feature programs on one-hit wonders and the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. This level also includes a gallery with artifact-filled exhibits about Les Paul, Alan Freed, Sam Phillips and the evolution of audio technology.
Visitors enter the Hall of Fame section of the museum on the third floor. This section includes “The Power of Rock Experience,” which includes one of Jonathan Demme’s final works, a film shown in the Connor Theater. The film includes musical highlights from some of the Hall’s induction ceremonies. Visitors exit the Hall of Fame section on the fourth floor. That level features the Foster Theater, a state-of-the-art 3-D theater that is used for special events and programs.
Finally, the top two levels of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame feature large, temporary exhibits. Over the years, numerous exhibits have been installed on these two levels, including exhibits about Elvis Presley, hip-hop, the Supremes, the Who, U2, John Lennon, the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Women Who Rock, and the Rolling Stones.
Designed by I. M. Pei and structurally engineered by Leslie E. Robertson Associates, the building rises above the shores of Lake Erie. It is a combination of bold geometric forms and dynamic cantilevered spaces that are anchored by a 162-foot tower. The tower supports a dual-triangular-shaped glass “tent” that extends (at its base) onto a 65,000-square-foot plaza that provides a main entry facade.
The building houses more than 55,000 square feet of exhibition space, as well as administrative offices, a store, and a café.
“In designing this building,” Pei said, “it was my intention to echo the energy of rock and roll. I have consciously used an architectural vocabulary that is bold and new, and I hope the building will become a dramatic landmark for the city of Cleveland and for fans of rock and roll around the world.”
Since 1997, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has featured numerous temporary exhibits that range in size from major exhibits that fill the top two floors of the museum to smaller exhibits that are often installed in the main exhibition hall on the lower level.
The museum’s first major exhibit opened on May 10, 1997. It was called I Want to Take You Higher: The Psychedelic Era, 1965 – 1969. It included artifacts from numerous artists, including John Lennon, Eric Clapton, John Sebastian, the Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin, as well as artifacts related to the Monterey International Pop Festival and Woodstock.
That exhibit was followed by Elvis is in the Building, an exhibit about the “King of Rock and Roll”, which ran from August 8, 1998, to September 5, 1999. This year-long tribute was the first ever special exhibit devoted to a single artist, Elvis Presley, the first inductee into the RRHOF in 1986. Graceland supplied a significant selection of representative artifacts for this special tribute spanning Elvis’ life and legendary career. Next, the museum curated Roots, Rhymes and Rage: The Hip-Hop Story. That was the first major museum exhibit to focus on hip-hop. It ran from November 11, 1999, to August 6, 2000. It was followed by Rock Style, an exhibit that focused on rock and roll and fashion. It featured clothing from Buddy Holly to Alice Cooper, from Ray Charles to David Bowie and from Smokey Robinson to Sly Stone. After it closed in Cleveland, Rock Style traveled to other museums in the U.S.
Other temporary exhibits have included Lennon: His Life and Work, which ran from October 20, 2000, to January 1, 2003. It was followed by In the Name of Love: Two Decades of U2 and then Reflections: The Mary Wilson Supreme Legacy Collection. A major exhibition on display during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016 was Louder than Words: Rock, Power, Politics.
Other large temporary exhibits have focused on the Clash (Revolution Rock: The Story of the Clash), the Doors (Break on Through: The Lasting Legacy of the Doors), the Who’s Tommy (Tommy: The Amazing Journey), and Bruce Springsteen(From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen). Another thematic temporary exhibit focused on the role of women in rock and roll (Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power). Many of these exhibits travel to other museums after closing in Cleveland. The museum’s current major temporary exhibit is about the history of the magazine Rolling Stone.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also curates many smaller temporary exhibits. Over the years, these exhibits have focused on such topics as the Vans Warped Tour, the Concert for Bangladesh, Woodstock’s 40th anniversary, Austin City Limits, the Monterey International Pop Festival, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Marty Stuart, Paul Simon, Graham Nash, and John Mellencamp.
The museum also devotes exhibits to photography and artwork related to rock and roll. Among the photographers whose work has been featured at the Hall of Fame are George Kalinsky, Alfred Wertheimer, Tommy Edwards, Kevin Mazur, Janet Macoska, Lynn Goldsmith, Mike McCartney, Robert Alford, and George Shuba. The museum also featured the artwork of Philip Burke in one of its temporary exhibits, and a later exhibit featured Herb Ritts.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum produces numerous public programs, including concerts, interviews, lectures, film screenings, and other events that help tell the story of rock and roll. Every February, the museum celebrates Black History Month by hosting concerts, film screenings and lectures that illustrate the important role African-Americans have played in the history of rock and roll. Since the program began in 1996, such artists as Robert Lockwood, Jr., the Temptations, Charles Brown, Ruth Brown, the Ohio Players, Lloyd Price, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and Al Green have appeared at the museum during Black History Month.
Another program is the Hall of Fame Series. This series began in April 1996 and features interviews with Hall of Fame inductees in a rare and intimate settings, most often in the Museum’s Foster Theater. The interviews are usually followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience and, often, a performance by the inductee. Among the inductees who have taken part in this series are Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., Lloyd Price, Marky Ramone, Seymour Stein, Ray Manzarek of the Doors, Ronnie Spector, Bootsy Collins, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, and Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane.
A similar program is the Legends Series. The only real difference between this program and the Hall of Fame Series is that it features artists who have not yet been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Peter Hook of Joy Division, Spinderella of Salt n Pepa, Tommy James, and the Chi-Lites are among the artists who have participated in the Legends Series.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s most acclaimed program is the annual American Music Masters series. Each year the museum celebrates one of the Hall’s inductees with a week-long series of programs that include interviews, film screenings, and, often, a special exhibit. The celebration ends with an all-star concert held at a Cleveland theater. The concerts include a diverse mix of artists, from Hall of Fame inductees to contemporary musicians.
The American Music Masters series began in 1996 with Hard Travelin’: The Life and Legacy of Pete Seeger. Since then, the programs have honored the following inductees: Jimmie Rodgers (1997), Robert Johnson (1998), Louis Jordan (1999), Muddy Waters (2000), Bessie Smith (2001), Hank Williams (2002), Buddy Holly (2003), Lead Belly (2004), Sam Cooke (2005), Roy Orbison (2006), Jerry Lee Lewis (2007), Les Paul (2008), Janis Joplin (2009), Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew (2010), Aretha Franklin (2011), and Chuck Berry (2012).
Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame museum curator James Henke, along with “the museum’s curatorial staff and numerous rock critics and music experts”, created an unordered list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”. The list is part of a permanent exhibit at the museum, and was envisioned as part of the museum from its opening in 1995. It contains songs recorded from the 1920s through the 1990s. The Beatles with seven songs was the most represented on the 500–song list. The oldest song on the list is “Wabash Cannonball”, written circa 1882 and credited to J. A. Roff. Since then, however, an additional 155 songs have been added, and the list is now simply referred to as “The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.” The most recent songs on the list are Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade,” both released in 2006. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones are the most represented on the 655–song list, with eight songs each.
Artists with four or more songs
- 8 The Beatles
- 8 The Rolling Stones
- 7 Elvis Presley
- 5 The Beach Boys
- 5 Chuck Berry
- 5 Bob Dylan
- 5 Led Zeppelin
- 5 Bruce Springsteen
- 5 Stevie Wonder
- 4 David Bowie
- 4 James Brown
- 4 Ray Charles
- 4 The Drifters
- 4 Aretha Franklin
- 4 Jimi Hendrix
- 4 Robert Johnson
- 4 The Kinks
- 4 Bob Marley
- 4 The Miracles
- 4 Prince
- 4 U2
- 4 Muddy Waters
- 4 The Who
25th anniversary concert
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame celebrated its 25th anniversary with a concert series over two days on October 29 and 30, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The celebration included performances by Jerry Lee Lewis, U2, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Simon & Garfunkel, Dion DiMucci, Metallica, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Fergie, Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, Ray Davies, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Simon, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Little Anthony & the Imperials, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The first night ran almost six hours with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band closing the concert with special guests John Fogerty, Darlene Love, Tom Morello, Sam Moore, Jackson Browne, Peter Wolf, and Billy Joel.
Artists are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at an annual induction ceremony. Over the years, the majority of the ceremonies have been held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. However, on January 12, 1993, the ceremony was held in Los Angeles, and was held there again in 2013. On May 6, 1997, about a year and a half after the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the ceremony was held in Cleveland. It returned to Cleveland in 2009 and again in 2012. Current plans call for the ceremony to be in Cleveland every three years. Generally, the number of inductees ranges from about a half-dozen to a dozen. Virtually all living inductees have attended the ceremonies, and they are presented with their Hall of Fame award by an artist who was influenced by that inductee’s music. Both the presenter and the inductee speak at the ceremonies, which also include numerous musical performances, by both the inductees and the presenters. The first group of inductees, inducted on January 23, 1986, included Elvis Presley, James Brown, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Robert Johnson, Jimmie Rodgers, and Jimmy Yancey were inducted as Early Influences, John Hammond received the Lifetime Achievement Award and Alan Freed and Sam Phillipswere inducted as Non-Performers.
A nominating committee composed of rock and roll historians selects names for the “Performers” category (singers, vocal groups, bands, and instrumentalists of all kinds), which are then voted on by roughly five hundred experts across the world. Those selected to vote include academics, journalists, producers, and others with music industry experience. Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Criteria include the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll. To be selected for induction, performers must receive the highest number of votes, and also greater than 50% of the votes. Around five to seven performers are inducted each year.
In 2012, six additional groups, the Miracles, the Famous Flames, the Comets, the Blue Caps, the Midnighters, and the Crickets, were inducted as performers by a special committee due to the controversial exclusions when their lead singer was inducted. “There was a lot of discussion about this,” said Terry Stewart, a member of the nominating committee. “There had always been conversations about why the groups weren’t included when the lead singers were inducted. Very honestly, nobody could really answer that question – it was so long ago… We decided we’d sit down as an organization and look at that. This is the result.”
Early Influences includes artists from earlier eras, primarily country, folk, and blues, whose music inspired and influenced rock and roll artists. Other notable artists that have been inducted as Early Influences include Bill Kenny & The Ink Spots, country musicians Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, blues musicians Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, and jazz musicians Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. After Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday in 2000, no one was inducted in this category until 2009, when rockabilly singer Wanda Jacksonwas selected. Unlike earlier inductees in this category, Jackson’s career almost entirely took place after the traditional 1955 start of the “rock era”.
Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement
Formerly the “Non-Performers” award, this category encompasses those who primarily work behind the scenes in the music industry, including record label executives, songwriters, record producers, disc jockeys, concert promoters and music journalists. This category has had at least one inductee every year except 2007 and 2009. Following the death of the Hall of Fame’s co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, this award was renamed in his honor in 2008.
Award for Musical Excellence
Formerly the “Sidemen” award, this category was introduced in 2000 and honors veteran session and concert players who are selected by a committee composed primarily of producers. The category was dormant from 2004 through 2007 and re-activated in 2008. This honor was renamed the “Award for Musical Excellence” in 2010. According to Joel Peresman, the president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, “This award gives us flexibility to dive into some things and recognize some people who might not ordinarily get recognized.”
Library and archives
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library and Archives is the world’s most comprehensive repository of materials related to the history of rock and roll. The Library and Archives is located in a new building on the Metro Campus of Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland’s Campus District.
The Library and Archives’ mission is to collect, preserve and provide access to these materials. The Library and Archives operates on two levels: people may come into the library and read the books and magazines, listen to music and other recordings, and watch videos and films. More serious scholars, historians and journalists may also make an appointment for access to the archival collections under the supervision of the staff archivists.
The library is composed of books, academic dissertations, and other references. It also includes popular magazines, scholarly journals and trade publications; commercial audio and video recordings, and research databases.
The archival collections include music-business records from record executives, artist managers, labels, historic venues, recording studios, specialists in stage design and lighting, and long-running concert tours. The collections also contain important individual items, such as personal letters penned by Aretha Franklin and Madonna, handwritten working lyrics by Jimi Hendrix and LL Cool J, papers from music journalists such as Sue Cassidy Clark, and rare concert recordings from CBGB in the 1970s.
The most frequent criticism of the Hall of Fame is that the nomination process is controlled by a few individuals who are not themselves musicians, such as founder Jann Wenner (co-founder and editor-in-chief of Rolling Stone magazine), former foundation director Suzan Evans, and writer Dave Marsh, reflecting their personal tastes rather than the views of the rock world as a whole. A former member of the nominations board once commented that “At one point Suzan Evans lamented the choices being made because there weren’t enough big names that would sell tickets to the dinner. That was quickly remedied by dropping one of the doo-wop groups being considered in favor of a ‘name’ artist … I saw how certain pioneering artists of the ’50s and early ’60s were shunned because there needed to be more name power on the list, resulting in ’70s superstars getting in before the people who made it possible for them. Some of those pioneers still aren’t in today.” Sister Rosetta Tharpe is often considered “The Godmother/Grandmother of Rock & Roll”, but was not chosen for induction until 2017. Also, the influential soul/funk group Tower of Power has not yet been honored. Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker has dismissed the Hall of Fame as the “Hall of Lame”.
There is also controversy in the lack of transparency in the selection process. Janet Morrissey of The New York Times wrote:
“With fame and money at stake, it’s no surprise that a lot of backstage lobbying goes on. Why any particular act is chosen in any particular year is a mystery to performers as well as outsiders – and committee members say they want to keep it that way.”
Jon Landau, the chairman of the nominating committee, says they prefer it that way. “We’ve done a good job of keeping the proceedings nontransparent. It all dies in the room.”
According to Fox News, petitions with tens of thousands of signatures were also being ignored, and some groups that were signed with certain labels or companies or were affiliated with various committee members have even been put up for nomination with no discussion at all. The committee has also been accused of largely ignoring certain genres. According to author Brett Milano, “entire genres get passed over, particularly progressive rock, ’60s Top 40, New Orleans funk and a whole lot of black music.” In contrast, since the mid-2000s (decade), numerous hip hop artists have been inducted, including Tupac Shakur (class of 2017), N.W.A (class of 2016) and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (class of 2007).
Another criticism is that too many artists are inducted. In fifteen years, 97 different artists were inducted. A minimum of 50% of the vote is needed to be inducted; although, the final percentages are not announced and a certain number of inductees (five in 2011) is set before the ballots are shipped. The committee usually nominates a small number of artists (12 in 2010) from an increasing number of different genres. Several voters, including Joel Selvin, himself a former member of the nominating committee, did not submit their ballots in 2007 because they did not feel that any of the candidates were truly worthy.
Members of the British punk rock band The Sex Pistols, inducted in 2006, refused to attend the ceremony, calling the museum “a piss stain” and “urine in wine”.
In BBC Radio 6 Music’s Annual John Peel Lecture in 2013, the singer Charlotte Church accused the museum of gender bias, stating, “Out of 295 acts and artists in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, 259 are entirely male, meaning that Tina Weymouth’s part in Talking Headsmakes them one of the 36 female acts.” In fact, the actual percentage of woman inductees is 8.5%. Combining all the categories, there have been 719 inductees, out of which only 61 have been women, none of which has been inducted more than once or awarded the Lifetime Achievement.
2015 inductee Steve Miller voiced a litany of criticisms directed at the hall, both during his induction speech and, especially, in interviews after it. His complaints included a lack of female inductees, not enough support by the hall for music education, and treatment of inductees at the award ceremony.
2007 vote controversy
On March 14, 2007, two days after that year’s induction ceremony, Roger Friedman of Fox News published an article claiming that the Dave Clark Five should have been the fifth inductee, as they had more votes than inductee Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The article went on to say “Jann Wenner used a technicality about the day votes were due in. In reality, The Dave Clark Five got six more votes than Grandmaster Flash. But he felt we couldn’t go another year without a rap act.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation would later deny fixing the vote, although they did not deny that late votes were received, saying, “No. There is a format and rules and procedure. There is a specific time when the votes have to be in, and then they are counted. The bands with the top five votes got in.” The Dave Clark Five was subsequently nominated again and then inducted the following year.
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