In a career spanning over 50 years and an estimated 1,000 songs, British songwriter Don Black has worked with everyone from Quincy Jones and Henry Mancini to Andrew Lloyd Webber; won numerous prizes including Tony Awards, an Oscar for "Born Free" and multiple Ivor Novello Awards; been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame; and co-wrote Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers "Ben" and "To Sir, With Love" (sung by Michael Jackson and British singer Lulu, respectively).

Due to be honored as a BMI Icon at the U.S. performing right organization's annual London Awards, held tonight (Oct. 5) at London's Dorchester Hotel, Black talks to Billboard.biz about his latest accolade and looks back on his heavily decorated career.

How does this award compare when placed alongside all the other prizes and titles that you've received?

It's a great thrill. I've been lucky enough to have lots of prizes over the years, but as you get older they mean more. To be called an icon it isn't just an ordinary everyday thing. Especially with the people that have gone before -- Paul Simon and Dolly Parton [previous BMI Icon award winners] -- now they really are icons. So it's wonderful. What you work for all your life, really. I'm going to enjoy it. An evening of adulation: what's wrong with that?

What do you look for when you're asked to collaborate with an artist or fellow songwriter?

I will get on a plane for anyone who's got a good tune. Johnny Mercer once said to me: "Even if a waiter gives you a melody, if it's a great tune, write it." And he was right. He wrote some of his best songs with unknown people. So I don't think it matters whether someone is a big name or not, because the biggest people in the world get it wrong. Believe me, for all the hits that they've had, they've had a lot of flops as well. One thing I'm proud of is that I've worked with so many people and I've never had a row with any of them. Although it is a bit promiscuous having all these different collaborators.

What are some of the main challenges facing songwriters today?

Today, it's very hard for people who aren't performing or producing. Whereas a few years ago a few people wrote [songs], nowadays everyone who makes a record is a writer. Even Tom Jones is writing his own songs. So I think that's changed and made it harder for the writer. But I think that I lived in a very good period where there were singers like Matt Monro and Johnny Mathis all cutting songs [by non-performing songwriters].

Which contemporary artists do you admire?

I love Lily Allen and Paolo Nutini. I've always gone for someone who is more a storyteller. Lady Gaga tells a good story, as does Alicia Keys.

You gave Michael Jackson his first solo No. 1 with the song "Ben". What are your memories of the man?

I knew him very well when he was very young and then I knew him maybe 10 years later when we made contact again and he was a lovely guy. I used to play pool with him and he used to come to my house in Los Angeles... He was too heavily protected. You couldn't know him too well because his dad was always in his way. But I have great memories of him.

Your next project is a Broadway musical about Bonnie and Clyde. What inspires you to keep writing music?

I just enjoy it. I love writing songs and I'd much prefer to write a song than watch a bad movie on television. I love writing and I really have fire in my belly. When I'm in a room with a 17-year-old songwriter, which I still do often, I don't feel there's any difference in our ages at all. They probably think: "Jesus, this old fart." But it doesn't seem to come into it for me. I just tune into what it is that they're doing. I love songs and songs are what it's all about.