Jon Bon Jovi said he has been writing his Rock Hall speech for years.
The 33rd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is all set to take place on Saturday in Cleveland.
Tharpe died in 1973 and was a pioneering guitarist who performed gospel music.
Illsley told the crowd that Knopfler's decision not to come was a "personal decision".
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The Cars, led by Ric Ocasek, went in a different direction, bringing the quirky electronic effects of New Wave to classically structured pop songs, generating a string of hits such as You Might Think, Shake It Up, and Drive. This year marked the band's third nomination; Brandon Flowers, of The Killers, will induct the band.
Mary J. Blige and Andra Day will honour the jazzy and soulful Simone later in the show, while Ann Wilson of Heart will induct progressive rockers The Moody Blues.
Petty, who was enshrined with his band The Heartbreakers in 2002, died in October of an accidental drug overdose shortly after wrapping up a highly successful North American tour. He even sang some of "Wanted Dead or Alive", getting the audience to join in.
The party hasn't started at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony but the atmosphere already is rocking.
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The band was one of the last to arrive on the red carpet for the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Cleveland.
Desmond Child, who co-wrote some of the band's biggest hits, says he'd "love to see them back together".
The Class of 2018 Inductees include Bon Jovi, The Cars, The Moody Blues, Dire Straits, Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
There was a moment Saturday evening outside of Public Auditorium when you couldn't hear anything but screams. The band will be inducted by Howard Stern.
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Alan Clark of Dire Straits laughed in the bottom level food court as he spoke about how he claimed that he, bassist John Illsley and keyboardist Guy Fletcher would play an acoustic version of the epic "Telegraph Road" in the absence of frontman Mark Knopfler - and that it was taken seriously.