BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
Last night’s $1000-a-plate dinner at Manhattan’s Marriott Marquis Hotel had something for everybody. The 45th annual awards event (which also included an ASCAP centennial celebration) was held to honor the impressive work of composers ex-head Kink Ray Davies, Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan, British songwriter Graham Gouldman, and Americans Mark James and Jim Weatherly.
It featured performances as far-reaching as one by 81-year-old singer-dancer Chita Rivera, who recreated her signature song "America," from the legendary 1957 Broadway musical “West Side Story," and another by 14-year-old Jackie Evancho, who interpreted the night's Towering Song Award winning "Over the Rainbow" with emotions well beyond her years.
Davies, probably the most commercially successful of the five songwriting inductees, was unable to attend due to the recent death of his sister. However, in a pre-recorded message shown on a massive video screen, he commented, “ I am profoundly honored to be inducted…but I felt it necessary to be near my family at this time…I wish to thank everyone...who voted for me…and give special thanks to all of the loyal Kinks fans who have stood by me all these years.”
Noted record producer Peter Asher (formerly of Peter and Gordon) started Davies’ induction which was continued by singer Jon Bon Jovi ,who also did spirited renditions of such Davies classics as “Celluloid Heroes,” “Better Things,” “Low Budget,” and “All Day And All Of The Night.”
Davies’ contemporary Donovan was inducted by Ralph Peer, who originally discovered the eclectic artist 50 years ago. Following a standing ovation, Donovan performed the 1966 psychedelic influenced “Sunshine Superman,” before being joined by Rosanne Cash to reinterpret his first successful recording, “Catch The Wind.”
Fellow inductees Mark James and Jim Weatherly showed that they are not only first-class songwriters, but could perform their own compositions in a very convincing fashion. James, known for writing Elvis Presley’s last number-one hit, “Suspicious Minds” (which was performed to perfection earlier by Martina McBride), sang his multi-Grammy-winning “Always On My Mind”, as well as “Eyes Of A New York Woman” and “Hooked On A Feeling," on which he impressively replicated the sitar-like guitar sounds used on B.J. Thomas' original 1968 hit record.
Weatherly hit it big in the 1970's, composing several million sellers for Gladys Knight and The Pips. Former American Idol winner Candice Glover sang “Midnight Train To Georgia”, while Weatherly sat down on a stool to sing a touching “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)."
Graham Gouldman's impressive musical contributions (which include writing "For Your Love" and "Heart Full Of Soul," for The Yardbirds, "Listen People" for Herman's Hermits and co-writing "The Things We Do For Love" for his band 10 CC) were acknowledged by the duo A Great Big World; Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino. They performed 10 CC's "I'm Not In Love" before inducting Gouldman. After a gracious acceptance speech, the still-current 10 CC member strapped on an acoustic guitar to perform "Bus Stop," originally written for The Hollies in 1966.
A younger generation was represented by 26-year-old Imagine Dragons leader, Dan Reynolds, who received the Hal David Starlight Award and performed his Grammy-winning hit “Radioactive" with just piano accompaniment.
Other highlights included Chubby Checker, now 72, singing and dancing up a storm to his 1961 hit “Let’s Twist Again.”
In my opinion, the evening’s true show stopper was contemporary R&B favorite Miguel’s heartfelt rendition of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s “Me And Mrs. Jones,” before the famed duo received the Johnny Mercer Award, considered the evening’s most prestigious.
Sony Music's CEO, Doug Morris who started out as a songwriter penning The Chiffon's 1966 hit "Sweet Talkin' Guy" before long, prestigious executive tenures with Atlantic and MCA Records as well as The Universal Music Group, was given the Howie Richmond Hit Maker Award.
BMI president Del R. Bryant, the son of famed songwriters Felice and Boudleoux Bryant who wrote many of the Everly Brothers' best known recordings ( "Bye, Bye Love, " "Wake Up Little Suzie" and "All I Have To Do Is Dream"), was presented with the Visionary Leadership Award by Rosanne Cash, who also sang her father Johnny's“I Still Miss Someone.”
All night the backing musicians and singers were remarkably versatile and supportive. What would have made the three hour event even more special, would have been a grand onstage finale, featuring all of the performers, presenters, and inductees.
Nevertheless, the audience experienced a great, memorable evening, for sure.