2019 American Music Awards

Special Feature: Billboard Latin Music Conference & Awards - Honors Due

LATIN SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME LAUNCHES AFTER PERSEVERING EFFORTS

The launch of the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame seems to have taken place with effortless speed: Its founders announced its creation in October 2012, set up its board of directors within three months, announced a field of 24 iconic nominees and, in January, voted on five inductees who will be honored at its inaugural gala in Miami Beach on April 23, the opening night of the Billboard Latin Music Conference. But the endeavor has been years in the making.

It started with an impromptu visit 16 years ago to the Miami Beach home of Cuban-American producer/songwriter Rudy Perez by Manuel Alejandro, the reclusive, legendary composer of hits like "Dueno de Nada," "Todo se Derrumbo" and "Soy Rebelde."

The conversation got extended, and Perez asked Julio Iglesias--whose new album Perez was producing at the time--to join them. "We opened up this great bottle of wine Julio had given me for a special occasion and we spent the entire day with Manuel Alejandro and had the best time," he says.

Barely a week later, Perez met another legendary songwriter, Mexico's Armando Manzanero, for lunch. "And I thought, it's unbelievable that these guys are going to go down in time and no one's really going to know who they were, because there's no place for people to connect with their body of work," says Perez, who has also penned some of Latin music's greatest hits of the past two decades, including "Despues de Ti" and "Quitame Ese Hombre."

Perez was already involved at that time with pushing the creation of the Latin Recording Academy. After that organization was formed in 1997, he realized a similar initiative was needed to recognize Latin songwriters. But his initial lobbying at the long-established, multiple-genre Songwriters Hall of Fame yielded few results.

Enter Desmond Child, who in 2008 became one of only a handful of Latinos to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The son of Cuban songwriter and poet Elena Casals, Child--like Perez--grew up in Miami, and had seen many of his mother's composer friends die in obscurity.

When his own mother died a year ago, "I wanted to create something in her honor," says Child, who is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame board of directors. "I was very strongly motivated, so I went to the board and brought it up."

He recalls the reaction of board member Karen Sherry, who is also ASCAP senior VP of industry affairs and executive director of the ASCAP Foundation. "'That's been Rudy Perez's dream forever,'" Child recalls her saying.

Today, Perez and Child, both children of struggling immigrants and now two of the top producers and songwriters in Latin and mainstream music, are joined in one of the most ambitious projects in Latin music.

The Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame is the first organization to recognize Spanish- and Portuguese-language songwriters from around the world. Its mission statement declares that its goal is to "educate, preserve, honor and celebrate the legacy of the greatest Latin songwriters from all over the world and their music in every genre while developing and inspiring new songwriters through workshops, showcases, scholarships and digital initiatives."

Because the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame falls under the auspices of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the first step was getting the endorsement and support of the senior organization, whose guidelines serve as a template for the Latin version.

Next came the effort to recruit top songwriters, publishers and executives for the 54-member board of directors, plus the creation of a performing rights organization (PRO) advisory board made up of all PROs worldwide that deal with Latin music.

Candidates for induction were voted upon by the board. As with the multiple-genre Songwriters Hall of Fame, to be considered for induction, a songwriter must have achieved his or her first hit no less than 20 years ago.

The first inductees--Alejandro, Iglesias, Manzanero, Jose Angel "Ferrusquilla" Espinoza, Jose Feliciano, Concha Valdes Miranda and the late Roberto Cantoral--were voted on by all organization members and announced in January.

The last step was planning the gala, set to take place as part of the Billboard Latin Music Conference on April 23 and filmed as a TV special that will air later this year.

Inductees and other special winners will receive La Musa (the Muse) statuettes, a replica of a sculpture depicting Child's mother, Casals, which was originally created by Florida artist Lee Burnham in 1954.

Child now serves as chairman/CEO of the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Perez is president. A key challenge for the new organization, Perez says, is "to have people understand who we are. We're not another awards show, for example. We're like a museum. It's like a Nobel Peace Prize for a composer. And it's been a challenge to get that message across to people. A lot of Latinos really don't understand what it means yet."

But many do get it.

"I believe in this event 100%," says Jorge Mejia, executive VP of Sony/ATV Music Publishing Latin America and U.S. Latin. "I went to the Songwriters Hall of Fame [induction ceremony] for the first time a couple of years ago, and it was one of those events that makes you remember why you started working with songwriters to begin with."

Child adds, "You can't have any music business without the song. And you have to recognize that the source of all the energy comes from somebody with an instrument who starts to write from within their heart. That's the only thing that matters. Then you build a mountain on that."

Beyond the gala, the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame's future goals include the creation of a physical museum of Latin music open to visitors. It hopes to create a strong educational component that will include online workshops and master classes, international songwriting competitions, scholarships and an online encyclopedia of Latin music. In addition, it will work closely with its board of representatives from PROs to advance songwriting in all Latin countries.

"We want to create the highest prize in Latin music," Child says. "It's not about last year's hit. It's about careers. We don't want people's works to be forgotten. We want them to live forever."


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