Mary J. Blige, Jermaine Dupri and Johnta Austin shared songwriter of the year honors at the 20th anniversary celebration of ASCAP’s Rhythm & Soul Music Awards.
This year’s salute, held earlier this evening (June 25) at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, marked Dupri’s third consecutive and sixth time being named songwriter of the year.
Among the trio’s ASCAP award-winning songs for 2006 was Blige’s “Be Without You,” which netted co-writers Blige and Austin this year’s top R&B/hip-hop song award. Nelly’s “Grillz,” co-written by Dupri, claimed the top ringtone of the year award.
Among other top winners: EMI Music Publishing for publisher of the year (marking the company’s 13th consecutive win in that category), Beyoncé’s “Check on It” for top soundtrack song of the year, Sean Paul for reggae artist of the year (his fourth consecutive win), Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down” for top rap song and Kirk Franklin’s “Looking for You” for top gospel song.
Highlighting the evening was the presentation of the Voice of Music Award to Blige, whose upcoming ventures include her label, Matriarch Records. Following a video tribute recapping her 15-year career, in place of Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine, songwriter/production duo Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis — collaborators with Blige on her hit “No More Drama” — joined Geffen Records chairman Ron Fair and Marilyn Bergman in presenting the Voice of Music award.
Blige is the first African-American to receive the ASCAP honor. She joins such other Voice of Music recipients as Garth Brooks, Diane Warren and Jimmy Webb.
“All I ever wanted to do is be me,” said an emotional Blige as she received her various awards. “Fans have accepted this troubled ghetto child who has now accepted herself. They became my therapist and helped me know I wasn’t the only one suffering. Every level you go to, the bigger the challenge. I do this for my fans; I wouldn’t trade anything I’ve gone through.”
Capping the evening were riveting, ovation-earning performances of key Blige songs, including Karen Clark Sheard’s reading of “No More Drama” and labelmate Keyshia Cole’s turn on “I’m Going Down.” Ne-Yo was also among the evening’s performers.