Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge was honored by the Songwriters Hall of Fame on Thursday (June 14) with the Howie Richmond Hitmaker Award, bestowed on an individual who has been responsible for a substantial number of hit songs for an extended period.

After a performance by Ariana Grande, Grainge was introduced by The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) who had flown to New York from Paris for the event.

Grainge, who now leads the world's largest music company, spent the first third of his career in music publishing.

In personal reflections, Grainge revealed the source of his musical instincts. His father, a record shop owner in North London, “was also an incredible whistler,” he said. “I can still see him now -- face covered in shaving cream, transistor radio next to the bathroom sink, whistling along with the coda from 'Hey Jude,' which had just been released.

“To this day, when people ask me what my favorite songs are, I say it’s anything I can whistle.”

Below is the full text of Grainge’s acceptance speech:

Thank you, Abel. Not only for your generous introduction, but also for the extraordinary music you bring to the world.

Ariana, thank you as well. You’re one of the greatest vocalists alive, and your songwriting grows more powerful every year.

To Linda [Moran] and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, I’m so moved by this honor -- Howie Richmond was a giant in our industry and also happens to be the publisher of one of my favorite songs of all time, “A Boy Named Sue.” Receiving this Hitmaker award is a real tribute to the path he and others blazed. I also want to recognize the incredible Universal Music writers and recording artists that are being honored here tonight including: Bill Anderson, Steve Dorff, Alan Jackson, Kool & The Gang, John Mellencamp, Allee Willis and of course my dear friend Neil Diamond.

Because nobody gets here on their own. I owe so much to my wife Caroline, who brings harmony to my life, and to my entire team at Universal -- whose passion and talent make my work possible. Jody Gerson, especially, really knows how to a build a culture that puts songwriters first, and that always comes through in the music. [Gerson is chairman/CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group.]

So to all of you, words cannot express my gratitude.

I trace my love for music to North London, where I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My father owned a small record shop, and so our family listened to just about everything -- from Wagner to Ray Charles to Mozart to Elvis.

Dad was also an incredible whistler. I can still see him now -- face covered in shaving cream, transistor radio next to the bathroom sink, whistling along with the coda from “Hey Jude,” which had just been released.

To this day, when people ask me what my favorite songs are, I say it’s anything I can whistle.

Despite the fact that I was a nice Jewish boy, my parents sent me to a nice Christian school, because it offered the best education in our neighborhood. Surprisingly, my favorite part of the school day, beginning when I was five or six, were the mandatory morning hymns. That’s where discovered my love of melody. My passion for music was born.

When I was 12, my brother Nigel was already 25, and working at Phonogram as a marketer. His company car was a huge GM station wagon full of records, tape, sharpies, staple guns and posters. Every weekend, after lunch with our grandparents, I would swipe his keys, clamber into the back, and “borrow” as many records as I could.

Looking back, the introduction that Nigel and my dad provided was the foundation of my entire career. I passed on college and joined April Blackwood in 1979, then stayed in the music publishing business until 1993. In fact, I spent the first third of my career in music publishing. And professionally, those were the years that really shaped me.

To go back and forth with a songwriter, exchanging ideas with nothing more than a guitar or piano, is a beautiful and intimate creative experience. It’s so much purer than playing a recording back in the studio, because there’s no hiding behind production, EQ and instrumentation. Now that is the litmus test of a great song.

For those who think that much of the music produced today lacks melody or composition -- I’d encourage you to keep listening. Trust me, a few decades from now, the best songwriting will still hold its own, just as the Sex Pistols, Run-DMC, The Clash or Public Enemy do today, a generation after the establishment dismissed them as unlistenable.

My point is that being an encyclopedia of music -- which those of us in the business tend to be -- can sometimes be a hindrance. Instead, we always need to keep our minds wide open and keep listening to new ideas through young ears.

When we do, and if we’re lucky, we just might hear a song that inspires us to whistle.

Thank you again for this honor.


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