John Mellencamp has been named the recipient of the 2001 Billboard Century Award, Billboard magazine’s highest honor for distinguished creative achievement. The award — given annually to an artist who has not received the wider recognition his or her ongoing body of work merits — will be presented in December during the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas. The program will air on Fox Television.
“John Mellencamp is arguably the most important roots rocker of his generation,” says Billboard editor in chief Timothy White. “Mellencamp’s best music is rock’n’roll stripped of all escapism, and it looks directly at the messiness of life as it’s actually lived.”
“But what’s seldom addressed and perhaps more important,” White adds, “is Mellencamp’s career-long esteem of the black and white socio-musical traditions that merged in rock… In Mellencamp’s records, all racial, social, or spiritual divisions are unnatural and perverse, and all organic daily efforts to embrace human diversity are causes for celebration. For these reasons and more, Billboard can think of no artist more deserving of the 2001 Century Award than John Mellencamp.”
Folk-edged lyrical honesty, combined with propulsive, guitar-driven melodies, has spawned not only 10 platinum or multi-platinum albums for Mellencamp, but also 21 top-20 singles, including the No. 1 “Jack and Diane” and No. 2 hits “Hurts So Good” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” He has also devoted his time to such issues as the plight of family farmers through his co-founding of Farm Aid.
Mellencamp, who is readying his new Columbia album, “Cuttin’ Heads,” and who starts a summer tour July 31 at San Diego State University, was excited to hear that he had earned the accolade. “I’m surprised that I was old enough to get it!” he says. “I think it’s great. I never started out making records with the idea of getting honored with anything. I just wanted to make a record.”
Due in September, “Cuttin’ Heads” aims to continue Mellencamp’s path of exploring different sounds, as it features collaborations with country artist Trisha Yearwood, neo-soul singer India.Arie, and rapper Chuck D.
The Century Award was named after the publication’s 100th anniversary in 1994. Mellencamp will become the 10th Century Award honoree, joining George Harrison (1992), Buddy Guy (1993), Billy Joel (1994), Joni Mitchell (1995), Carlos Santana (1996), Chet Atkins (1997), James Taylor (1998), Emmylou Harris (1999), and Randy Newman (2000).