Aerosmith checks all the boxes for a MusiCares person of the year honoree. The band has had a substantial career, whether you measure it by number of No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 (two) or number of Grammy Awards (four). The group also has a long history of supporting charitable causes, such as lead singer Steven Tyler’s Janie’s Fund.
Aerosmith has something else in common with recent person of the year recipients. The members all qualify for Medicare. (They range in age from 67 to 71.) Aerosmith is the seventh consecutive person of the year recipient who was 65+ at the time of the event. They follow Carole King (who was 71 when she received the honor in 2014), Bob Dylan (73 in 2015), Lionel Richie (66 in 2016), Tom Petty (66 in 2017), Fleetwood Mac (the members ranged from 68 to 74 in 2018) and Dolly Parton (73 in 2019).
The most recent MusiCares honoree who was under 65 was Bruce Springsteen, who was 63 when he received the honor in 2013. The most recent honoree who was under 60 was Don Henley, who was 59 when he was honored in 2007.
These are all great artists and worthy recipients. I am not suggesting that any of these honorees have been too old to win — just that the recipients should reflect a mix of ages. After all, the award is called person of the year, not veteran of the year or legacy artist of the year.
Rather than reach back to every last legacy artist, MusiCares should choose person of the year honorees that reflect a wide range of ages. It would be great if the honoree was Barbra Streisand one year and Beyoncé the next.
That’s how it works at the annual Grammy Awards. Tony Bennett, then 68, won the 1994 album of the year award. Alanis Morissette, then 21, won the following year. No one got whiplash trying to keep up. Most people understand that artists are capable of quality work at all ages.
There is a cost associated with this becoming an award for legacy artists. A lot of younger music fans and even Recording Academy members are coming to see the person of the year honor as a kind of lifetime achievement award for someone in the later stages of their career. It wasn’t meant to carry that connotation.
You may be surprised to learn that the first four person of the year honorees were under 50 at the time: David Crosby (who was 49 in 1991), Bonnie Raitt (42 in 1992), Natalie Cole (43 in 1993) and Gloria Estefan (36 in 1994, making her the youngest recipient to date).
At some point early in this decade, MusiCares started hearing “yes” from the very top of the A list. Streisand, Paul McCartney, Springsteen, King and Dylan were consecutive honorees from 2011-15. That’s a pretty impressive run — and the names on either side of that run weren’t shabby either. Should the charity have passed on any of those honorees in the name of age diversity?
Here’s another good question: Is it ageist to say the honorees should reflect a better mix of ages? I don’t think so. It would be ageist to say no one over 65 should get the honor. (It would also be fairly hypocritical of me, since I’m not 30 any longer myself.) But I’m not saying that.
MusiCares seems to have given some thought to diversity of the honorees in terms of gender and race, especially in recent years. Since 2000, there have been four female honorees: Aretha Franklin, Streisand, King and Parton, as well as Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie from Fleetwood Mac.
Since 2000, there have been two African-American honorees: Franklin and Richie.
But since 2000, there has been only one recipient who was under 50 — Bono, who was 42 when he was honored in 2003.
Here’s a startling stat: We have yet to see a person of the year honoree who was born after 1960. (Bono was born in May 1960.)
Younger artists — and to MusiCares, Garth Brooks (born in 1962) and Jay-Z (born in 1969) are younger artists — have also had substantial careers and made substantial philanthropic contributions. So have even younger artists such as Beyoncé (born in 1981) and Taylor Swift (born in 1989).
The annual person of the year dinner and concert is a pricey event. Individual ticket prices this year range from $1,500 to $5,000. Table ticket prices (seating for 12) range from $15,000 to $55,500 (or three for $150,000). MusiCares may be nervous about a relatively new artist being able to fill those tables. An artist who has decades of connections in the industry is a safer bet.
But nobody is suggesting that MusiCares should honor Charli XCX (sorry, Charli). There has to be a happy medium between honoring the latest pop sensation every year and having it be strictly an event for legacy artists.