NMPA Honors John Lennon's 'Imagine' with Centennial Song Award, Surprises Yoko Ono by Declaring Her Co-Writer

Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon with the Centennial Song Award
Courtesy NMPA 

Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon with the Centennial Song Award

John Lennon's “Imagine” was awarded the National Music Publishers Association Centennial Song Award Wednesday (June 14) and Yoko Ono was given a long overdue credit as co-writer of the iconic song.

The ceremony took place in New York during the NMPA's Centennial Annual Meeting and was attended by Ono and her son Sean Lennon.

“When they officially acknowledged -- through my father's account -- that my mother co-wrote 'Imagine,' the 'Song of the Century,' it may have been the happiest day of mine and mother's life,” a jubilant Lennon told Billboard in a text sent through Yoko Ono's music manager. 

The award, initially to honor just the song, turned into a delightful surprise for the 84-year-old Ono when NMPA president and CEO David Israelite told the gathering, “While things may have been different in 1971, today I am glad to say things have changed. So tonight, it is my distinct honor to correct the record some 48 years later, and recognize Yoko Ono as a co-writer of the NMPA Centennial Song 'Imagine' and to present Yoko Ono with this well-deserved credit.”

Gary Gershoff

The crowd heard the words of John Lennon from a vintage BBC interview confirming that she should be named as an author of the song. “Actually that should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song because a lot of it -- the lyric and the concept -- came from Yoko," he said. "But those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution. But it was right out of 'Grapefruit,' her book. There’s a whole pile of pieces about 'Imagine this' and 'Imagine that.'”

Sean Lennon additionally posted a longer version of his feelings on Facebook and said hearing his father's words on her contribution to the song brought his mother to tears. “Proudest day of my life: The National Music Publishers Association just gave the Centennial (Song of The Century) Award to 'Imagine,'" he wrote. "But WAIT! Surprise! They played an audio interview of my father saying (approximately) 'Imagine' should have been credited as a Lennon/Ono song. If it had been anyone other than my wife I would have given them credit.' Cut to my mother welling up in tears, and then Patti and Jesse Smith played 'Imagine'! Patience is a virtue (PS Then they officially declared 'Imagine' to be a Lennon/Ono song!).” A picture posted on social media by Lennon featured himself and his mother in a wheelchair with Patti Smith and daughter Jesse.

Lennon's Imagine album was a No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and in the U.K. in 1971. Its title track hit No. 1 in the U.K. in 1975, where it also reappeared on the charts in 1988. 

Also honored at this year's NMPA event was Pharrell Williams with the Centennial Songwriter Icon Award.