They were joined by the O'Jays, Percy Sledge, the Pretenders and Chicago blues guitarist Buddy Guy.
U2 singer Bono worked the crowd yesterday at Manhattan's swank Waldorf Astoria, kissing another rock legend BB King and posing for a photograph with Catherine Zeta Jones.
U2 were scheduled to perform five songs, including I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and Vertigo.
The O'Jays are best known for their work with Philadelphia soul producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, but the gospel-styled singers are actually from Canton, Ohio.
Back Stabbers was a big hit in 1972, with Love Train and For the Love of Money other well-known songs.
They were inducted by American singer Justin Timberlake.
"Anyone who's ever written, produced or performed something soulful stands in the shadows of these giants," Timberlake said.
Original members Eddie Levert and Walt Williams are still active, and they were to be inducted with the late William Powell, retiree Bobby Massey and Sammy Strain.
Sledge's voice has been the backdrop to countless romantic encounters. The southern soul singer is best known for When a Man Loves a Woman.
Singer Rod Stewart called it "one of the best performances I've ever heard and I'm sure you've ever heard".
U2, who are quickly selling out arenas for an American concert tour, are among those rare acts still at the forefront of the music scene at the time of their induction.
Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr won a best rock performance Grammy last month for Vertigo. U2 have not lost their creative edge since they were teenagers in Dublin, starting with rock anthems such as Sunday Bloody Sunday. Needing at least 25 years as recording artists to be eligible, U2 were voted into the rock hall in their first year on the ballot.
The Pretenders came from the same rock generation as U2.
Ohio native Chrissie Hynde was a tough but tender role model for women, singing Brass in Pocket, Precious and Back on the Chain Gang.
The band formed after Hynde moved to London to be part of its fertile music scene. She has soldiered on, with drummer Martin Chambers, after guitarists James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon died as drug casualties.
Musicians, industry professionals and journalists vote on the inductees.