In a business where ego and star power often demand center stage, the Songwriters Hall of Fame (SHOF) awards dinner each June emerges like Brigadoon, an always magical, sometimes humbling celebration where the songwriting community honors its finest.
This year's event, taking place June 14 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York, will recognize a stellar class of honorees: Rondor Music Publishing president Lance Freed, Ben E. King, Gordon Lightfoot, Bette Midler, Ne-Yo, Don Schlitz, Tom Schmidt and Tom Jones, Bob Seger and Jim Steinman.
And for the first time, the hall will bestow a Pioneer Award, presented posthumously to Woody Guthrie in this year that marks the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Among those due to present or perform at the event are Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks, Kenny Rogers, Lyle Lovett, Meat Loaf, Emmylou Harris, Cheyenne Jackson, Constantine Maroulis, the singer L.P., Jerry Moss and Take 6.
"When we get together to share our songs and however shyly begin to play for other writers, there is a wonderful emotional outpouring that resembles an old-fashioned revival meeting," SHOF chairman Jimmy Webb says of the dinner. "All of a sudden, in a rush, we realize we are not alone and how much we love and appreciate one another's talents."
SHOF president Linda Moran echoes the sentiment. "Writing is often a solitary situation. You don't realize until the event that so many writers, even some of the performers, don't know each other," she says. "It kind of comes full circle."
Others are joining the chorus. In a first, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proclaimed the period of June 14-26-which includes the SHOF event and New Music Seminar-"Music Week" in New York.
On a somber note, this year's dinner comes in the wake of the death of Howard "Howie" S. Richmond, who co-founded the SHOF in 1969 with songwriter Johnny Mercer and publisher Abe Olman. He died May 20 at age 94. A one-time publicist-turned-publisher, Richmond during his long career championed such songwriters and artists as Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bart Howard, Shel Silverstein and Huddie Ledbetter, among others.
"Howie Richmond was an innovator and a titan in the field of music publishing, with a love of popular song and an undeniable ear for a hit," Webb says. "He was a major philanthropist, and one of the kindest people anyone could be lucky enough to know. The Songwriters Hall of Fame extends our heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of this great pioneer and gentleman."
To strengthen its bond with current and rising songwriters year-round, the SHOF spent the past year amping up its membership drive, embellishing its website (SongHall.org) and embracing new partnerships.
The most recent SHOF "master session" at New York University in April featured an interview with dance/funk pioneer Nile Rodgers. The hall has also collaborated with the Grammy Museum, the Songwriters in the Round and Legends in the Round workshops and is partnering for events like film screenings and an exhibition of rare photos from SHOF inductee dinners.
"We have amazing board members and such motivated partners who are dedicated to the cause of reaching out to the songwriters," Moran says.
With copyright compensation increasingly under fire in the digital age, Webb minces no words when discussing the urgency of education and advocacy for writers' rights.
"One of our primary goals is to create a reliable income stream to fund our philanthropic missions that support the art of songwriting," he says. "Our members must organize at a grass-roots level to respond to propaganda blasts from the 'copyleft.' You pay for a cup of coffee, you pay to get your teeth cleaned: Songs are a product and a service, and these craftsmen must be compensated."
His advice for rising songwriters? "Don't write for the current trend or fashion. Find your own voice, a distinctive one that looks at familiar subjects and human situations from your unique angle. Who sounds like Randy Newman? Nobody."