"It's weird being called a visionary when you've got Neil Diamond in the room, the guy from Samsung here," said Columbia Records chairman Rob Stringer, nodding to Jay-Z in his acceptance of the UJA-Federation of New York's Music Visionary of the Year Award on Friday.
Stringer was speaking to a room filled with co-workers, colleagues and artists including some of Columbia's biggest stars like Adele (who presented him with the award), Neil Diamond, John Legend, Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos and MGMT as well as Haim and John Mayer, both of whom performed two songs in tribute to their boss. Speaking in more sincere tones for a moment earlier, he noted, "Your career is defined by the people you work with," and shared the story of when he signed Adele in 2007, then one year into his journey as a Brit transplant in the U.S. with Columbia. "Six years ago, that young lady walked into our office with her manager and said, 'Yeah, this'll do,' with a cigarette in her mouth. It's fantastic to have her here, and she doesn't get out much."
A bevy of industry heavy-hitters was in the room as well: Clive Davis, Lyor Cohen, Barry Weiss, Kevin Liles, L.A. Reid, Julie Greenwald, Craig Kallman, Jody Gerson, all past recipients of the Visionary award, as well as Stringer's Columbia deputies Ashley Newton and Joel Klaiman and last year's co-Visionary recipient, VH1's Rick Krim. Glassnote CEO Daniel Glass, vice chair of UJA-Federation of New York's Entertainment Division, presided as host, who said of his longtime friend and former colleague, "Whether it's a Columbia artist or not, Rob loves music. We do compete, but I consider Columbia a huge independent. I hope you take that as a compliment."
The tribute was equal parts heartfelt and humorous, with Sony Entertainment chairman-CEO Doug Morris going off-script in his remarks. "Two to three times a week, we talk about music, people and the industry," the told the crowd, noting that Stringer is a "vicious" competitor. "He's a music junkie. Think of the artists who've been on that label. To have a brilliant music junkie at the head of that label, that's what record labels should be about. He's also the original 'daft punk.'"
The robot-helmeted French dance duo was one of many superstar acts who paid tribute to Stringer in a 5-minute video compilation, typing their praises like "Music = Life" and "Visionary = Future" in very primitive computer font. Other artists and colleagues who paid loving if jocular tribute via video included Celine Dion ("He's a great guy, just not a great dancer"), Harry Connick Jr. ("How has Rob helped my career? By staying out of it"), Patti Smith ("How has he helped me? I have a lot less money to spend, so I lead a simpler life"), Simon Cowell ("I feel happy for somebody else, for a change"), Tyler, the Creator ("If I could, I'd give him a hand job") Pharrell, One Direction, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Steven Tyler, and "Glee"'s Jane Lynch and Darren Criss.
Playing New York City for the first time in three years, Mayer told Stringer from the stage, "You are truly a visionary that you can tell me what to do with my song before I get to the first chorus," he said, adding, "Thank you for the big upfront deal. I promise to make every dollar back. Way to motivate me, Rob, way to motivate me." Mayer's sixth Columbia studio album, "Paradise Valley," is due later this summer.
In his own pre-recorded video, which aired at the beginning of the luncheon ceremony, Stringer joked that he hoped to raise as much money as Clive Davis had several years prior. In fact, he did the event raised a record $1.4 million via ads taken out in the event program from Columbia business partners, peers and artists like Beyonce, who Photo-shopped herself and Stringer as Bonnie and Clyde alongside the note, "Hit after hit, you have my back."
The money raised benefits Jewish communities around the world, touching 4.5 million peple a year. More information on how to donate and volunteer is available at http://www.ujafedny.org.