The Songwriters Hall of Fame has postponed its 51st annual Induction & Awards gala, originally set for June 11, 2020 (and then rescheduled for June 10, 2021) to June 16, 2022. The event will be held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York, the event’s home since 2005.
Linda Moran, SHOF president and CEO, called the second delay “absolutely heartbreaking.”
The Songwriters Hall of Fame first postponed the event on March 31, 2020, as the scope of the pandemic was becoming evident. At a time that many awards show organizers were merely postponing their shows by a few months, the SHOF pushed it back a full year — a decisive move intended to ensure that things would be in the clear. Sadly, even that wasn’t enough, forcing another postponement.
“When I saw organizations postponing [by just a few months], I was thinking ‘There’s no way it can happen,’” Moran says. “It’s much better to take the bull by the horns and just make the decision and just move it. Right now, it’s next year and we still have to pray.”
As a result of this double postponement, the honorees and inductees that were first announced on Jan. 16, 2020, will have to wait nearly two and a half years to take their bows. The honorees include Paul Williams, who will receive the organization’s top award, the Johnny Mercer Award, and Jody Gerson, chairman/CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group, who will receive the Abe Olman Publisher Award.
The inductees are Mariah Carey, Steve Miller, Rick Nowels and William “Mickey” Stevenson and former members of three celebrated ensembles: Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics; Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of The Neptunes; and Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley, O’Kelly Isley, Ronald Isley, Rudolph Isley and Chris Jasper of The Isley Brothers.
In addition to being a personal blow for Moran and the SHOF, this is a financial blow for the organization. Moran says that this annual event accounts for “close to 100%” of their operating income. The dinner draws 1,500 to 1,600 attendees each year and all guests (except the current year’s inductees) pay for their tickets.
Moran says that the dinner planned for June 2020 was 60% sold out when it was canceled that March. The ticket-buyers all allowed the SHOF to hold on to the money until the event takes place, rather than seek refunds, an act of generosity and support that Moran appreciates.
“They were all kind enough to let us hold the money, so we didn’t have to return the money to them. If it were ever canceled [outright], obviously we’d return it. Of course, I have to worry now because we’re not going to be able to pack the room as much as we have in the past.
“Obviously, it’s going to be changed. I’m known for packing the tables together because that actually adds to the intimacy of the event. Everybody is kind of hanging over each other, shoulder to shoulder. We won’t be able to do that next year. I think it’s going to take a long time [to get back to normal].”
Looking to the future, Moran says, “I probably would have to open up the other side of the room. We may be able to do the same amount of tables in more space. The room will have to be rearranged. The whole production will have to be changed — more [emphasis on] caution and safety. It’s going to be different times.”
Moran is adamant that a virtual event wouldn’t work for the Songwriters Hall of Fame induction gala, even though it worked rather well for such events as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction program.
“We just can’t do virtual,” she says. “They want to be there. They want to celebrate with all their friends and their peers and their colleagues. They want that tribute segment. They don’t want the presenters and performers to be in another state/location/on your computer. They want to have the people in the room. Our event is so special, you can’t transfer it over to virtual. It’s got to be an in-person thing.”
The Songwriters Hall of Fame generally inducts six songwriters or songwriting teams each year. There are seven this year because of a tie in the voting, Moran says. With the event canceled two years running, 12 songwriters that would have been inducted will never receive that honor. (Some of the ones that would have been inducted in 2021 and 2022 will get the honor eventually, no doubt, but in doing so they will take the slots that would have gone to other songwriters.) The SHOF has no plans to expand the number of inductions per year to try to make up for this lost time.
“We thought of ways we could [compensate for the canceled shows] and there are none,” Moran says. “If you elect some more writers, what do you do then, cut everybody’s segment down? Do you water it down and not do a tribute [segment] to them or make it so everybody just gets one song [instead of two]? That’s not fair either. Everybody should [get their full due]. That’s the sad consequence of having to defer it; of the pandemic.”
Moran considers the annual SHOF event her “proudest achievement.”
“It means so much to me,” she says. “I see what it means to the songwriters.”
Moran believes that the songwriting community shares her conviction that the event should be in person. “Everybody wants that. They want that adoration. They want the cheering and the happiness. They don’t want it where we’re going to ship them the award.”
That said, Moran is a realist. “If something happens and God forbid, can you even imagine that it couldn’t take place in June 2022, at that point you’d have to rethink what are you going to do, because you can’t make people wait 10 years.”