Here is a look at the honorees who will be recognized at this year's Songwriters Hall of Fame gala on June 14 in New York.Woody Guthrie: Pioneer Award
When two of America's greatest songwriters, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in January 2009 to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama, they performed a song written by a third masterful songsmith who had influenced them both, "This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie.
It's fitting that the Songwriters Hall of Fame is bestowing its inaugural Pioneer Award to Guthrie in the year that marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. The new award honors the creator of a major body of musical work that has influenced generations of songwriters. From "This Land Is Your Land" to "This Train Is Bound for Glory" to "Pretty Boy Floyd," Guthrie penned more than 3,000 songs in a career that left indelible fingerprints across every musical genre, particularly folk, rock and country. His music is intertwined with American history and culture, and he's been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He received a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 1999, and in this centennial year Woody Guthrie Publications and the Grammy Museum are collaborating on a yearlong celebration of concerts, exhibits, educational conferences and album releases.
Lance Freed: Abe Olman Publisher Award
The son of famed DJ Alan Freed, Lance Freed was born into music and grew into one of the industry's finest publishers and mentors. As such, he is the ideal recipient of the Abe Olman Publisher Award, named for one of the SHOF's founders and dedicated to music publishers who help further the careers of a cache of talented writers. The president of Rondor Music International, Freed has mentored writers including Bryan Adams, Will Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Leo Sayer, Melissa Etheridge, Peter Allen and Gerry Goffin. In his work with Rondor since 1980, he has led the company's creative team that oversees a catalog of more than 80,000 songs. To name just a few: "From a Distance," which won the 1990 Grammy for song of the year; "Tears in Heaven"; and Academy Award winners "Theme From Shaft," "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" and "My Heart Will Go On."
Bette Midler: Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award
Boasting 40 years of personality, perseverance and, above all, signature songs, Bette Midler hasn't skipped a beat in claiming her place in popular culture. Whether onstage, including her acclaimed recent Las Vegas extravaganza "The Showgirl Must Go On"; in such films as "The Rose" and "Beaches"; or on the small screen, including the Emmy Award-winning HBO concert film "Diva Las Vegas," the Divine Miss M personifies the Sammy Cahn award with her lifetime commitment to entertainment. Since releasing her debut album in 1972, Midler has recorded 14 albums, headlined 19 live tours and sold more than 30 million records worldwide, according to her representatives. The winner of three Grammys, three Golden Globes, a special Tony for her contributions to Broadway (for 1973's "Clams on the Halfshell Revue") and the recipient of two Oscar nominations, Midler is never one to rest on her laurels. Up next: She recently produced the Tony-winning Broadway musical "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and wrapped filming on new comedy film "Parental Guidance."
Ne-Yo: Hal David Starlight Award
Given the industry accolades Ne-Yo has already received, it's hard to believe he scored his first label deal less than a decade ago. The three-time Grammy winner soared into the spotlight with the hit "Let Me Love You," a song he penned for Mario that landed him a deal at Def Jam in 2004. His own debut album, "In My Own Words," has been designated platinum by the RIAA. Follow-up albums, including "Because of You" in 2007 and "Year of the Gentleman" in 2008, each brought Ne-Yo platinum sales and Grammy wins. He's written chart-toppers for Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Tim McGraw, Rihanna, Usher and others, and is currently scouting talent and mentoring developing artists at Motown Records in his role as senior VP of A&R. To top it all off, Ne-Yo found time to serve as a coach alongside Cee Lo Green on "The Voice," and is at work on his fifth album, due in the fall.
Ben E. King: Towering Performance Award
As frontman for the Drifters and as a solo artist, Ben E. King and his signature baritone became synonymous not only with this year's Towering Song Award recipient - "Stand by Me" - but with the soulful sound embodied in so many of his hits. Triumphing in a career that ebbed and flowed through many incarnations, with the Drifters and as a solo act, King earned 12 top 10 and 25 top 40 hits from 1959 to 1986. He had solo hits with the Latin-tinged ballad "Spanish Harlem" and disco-styled "Supernatural Thing, Part 1," among others, and continued to issue a new album every few years through the '90s including 1999's "Shades of Blue," on which he stepped ably into jazz territory.
'Stand By Me': Towering Song Award
Whether heard in 1961 when "Stand by Me" became a top five hit or in the 1986 movie of the same name, or at any number of feel-good gatherings, there's no question that its infectious melody and message of friendship in troubled times resonate through the generations. Witness the more than 400 recorded versions of "Stand by Me," including hits by Earl Grant, John Lennon, Spyder Turner and Maurice White. Written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and Ben E. King, the song's most famous incarnation is King's original, which was a No. 1 R&B hit in 1961 and charted on the Billboard Hot 100 in both 1961 and 1986. The recipient of a Grammy Hall of Fame award, the song was sampled in Sean Kingston's 2007 hit "Beautiful Girls," making it the title to have charted the most times on the Hot 100. A 2008 music video featuring "Stand by Me" recorded by street musicians from around the globe has been viewed 40 million times on YouTube. The video was the creation of Playing for Change, a foundation dedicated to advancing music education. One of BMI's five most-performed songs of the 20th century, the song is a favorite live cover collaboration of major acts including U2 and Bruce Springsteen, and Lady Gaga and Sting.
As a performing songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot became synonymous with the folk-pop sound that defined much of the music in the '60s and '70s. His long string of hits includes "Early Morning Rain," "If You Could Read My Mind," "Sundown," "Rainy Day People" and the haunting "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." Lightfoot's knack for storytelling through song has captured the ear of numerous artists through the years, and his songs have been recorded by a diverse lot including Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Jane's Addiction and Toby Keith. He's received five Grammy nominations and 17 Juno Awards in his native Canada, where he is a member of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. After overcoming health issues in the early 2000s, Lightfoot emerged to deliver yet another album, All Live, a collection of cherry-picked concert tracks recorded at Toronto's Massey Hall.
When the first recording of a songwriter's composition wins the singer a Grammy, the tunesmith is likely destined for greatness. This certainly rings true of songwriter Don Schlitz, whose song "The Gambler" earned Kenny Rogers a Grammy for best country vocal performance, male and the best country song Grammy for Schlitz in 1978. A decade later, Randy Travis' rendition of "Forever and Ever, Amen" led to a best country song Grammy in 1987 for Schlitz and co-writer Paul Overstreet. Through the years, Schlitz's songbook of country standards has racked up an impressive 24 No. 1 hits on the country charts. His songs-including "On the Other Hand," "I Feel Lucky" and "One Promise Too Late"-have been sung by the likes of Garth Brooks, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Alison Krauss. Schlitz is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2001 the four-time ASCAP country singer of the year wrote songs for Broadway musical "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." His accolades also include three Country Music Assn. Awards and two song of the year honors from the Academy of Country Music, which in 2010 gave Schlitz its Poet's Award for lifetime achievement in songwriting.
Harvey Schmidt & Tom Jones
The American musical theater has been deeply enriched by "The Fantasticks," the 1960 masterpiece created by composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones. The show not only earned the duo a Tony for excellence in theater in 1992, but it remains the longest-running musical in history on the merits of songs including "Try to Remember," "Soon It's Gonna Rain" and "They Were You." Through the years hundreds of artists have recorded "Try to Remember," including Harry Belafonte, Placido Domingo, Ed James and Barbra Streisand. The prolific pair also penned the 1963 Broadway show "110 in the Shade" and the 1967 two-character Broadway musical "I Do! I Do!" - both of which earned them Tony nominations for best composer and best lyricist. Schmidt and Jones, whose stars shine on the off-Broadway Walk of Fame, are members of the Broadway Hall of Fame and the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
To borrow a line from Bob Seger's extensive songbook, after decades of performing his formidable dedication to his craft is still the same. A Grammy winner for his 1981 song, "Against the Wind," and a 2004 inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Seger has the distinction of being inextricably linked to the American musical landscape with songs including "Turn the Page," "Night Moves," "Still the Same" and "Rock and Roll Never Forgets." Together with his Silver Bullet Band, he's achieved 12 platinum and seven multiplatinum RIAA certifications. His "Greatest Hits" collection, which has sold more than 9 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, is the third-biggest-selling best-of package since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991. His songs have been recorded by a gamut of acts including Metallica, Tina Turner and Barry Manilow.
Talk about a flair for the dramatic. From his early days with the New York Shakespeare Festival to penning Meat Loaf's legendary "Bat Out of Hell" album to producing Celine Dion's "Falling Into You," Steinman is celebrated for marrying passion with infectious melodies. After debuting his early rock opera "Dream Engine," Steinman wrote 1977's Bat Out of Hell, which has sold 14 million copies in the United States, according to the RIAA, and its 1993 sequel has sold 5 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan. His repertoire boasts No. 1 hits including "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "Making Love Out of Nothing at All," "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" and "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad." His "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" was named the 1997 BMI song of the year, and that same year he shared a Grammy for album of the year for producing Falling Into You. Steinman returned to theater, writing music for the show "Tanz Der Vampyr," and has penned songs for the films "Footloose" and "Streets of Fire," among others. He's working on musical versions of Bat Out of Hell and "Nutcracked," a metal version of "The Nutcracker" with lyrics set to Tchaikovsky's music.