When Neil Portnow became the head of the Recording Academy 10 years ago, he made a wish list of potential honorees for MusiCares Person of the Year. Three artists he particularly wanted “for obvious reasons,” as the president/CEO says, were Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen.
Tonight at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Springsteen will be the last of the three to be honored. Portnow has long since added more names to the list, but acknowledges a certain satisfaction in having “reached for the moon” and attained it.
Portnow says he “seeded the conversation” for years with Springsteen’s reps and confirmed the participation of the Boss, who opened the 2012 Grammy Awards, nearly a year ago.
Among the acts feting Springsteen are past honorees Elton John, Neil Young and Sting, as well as Jackson Browne, Tim McGraw, Patti Smith, Kenny Chesney and Eddie Vedder. This year’s line-up also includes some newer artists including new artist nominee Alabama Shakes and Mumford & Sons, as well as My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines.
Springsteen, who will also perform, has been very involved in the planning of the event, including having a hand in the selection of the artists on the bill.
“Part of his thought process and his team’s was that this was an opportunity to have some people who haven’t really done this thing for or with him before,” Portnow says. “There are many who are expected and predictable and who are all wonderful, but I think he felt this was an opportunity to stretch out who plays and who interprets his music.”
Comedian Jon Stewart will host the evening, which benefits MusiCares’ efforts to provide medical, financial and personal aid to those in the music community.
The MusiCares honoree is chosen by the Recording Academy for their artistic achievements as well as philanthropic work. Springsteen, a 20-time Grammy winner and Oscar winner, registers at the top of the charts for both. In his 40-plus year career, Springsteen’s 17 albums have often chronicled, as he says, “the distance between the American dream and the American reality.”
“Bruce is a unique artist on a variety of levels, starting with the array of talents he brings to his craft,” says Peter Ames Carlin, author of “Bruce,” a biography on Springsteen released last year. “He’s a powerful lyricist who also has a great ear for melody and song structure; he arranges and produces much of his own work; he’s a top-drawer lead guitarist, a strong singer and one of the best showmen in the history of American popular music.”
Indeed, Springsteen’s concerts are the stuff of legend, not only for their duration: up to four hours, but also for his intensity and connection with the audience.
“He is every bit as sustained by (his audience’s) energy as they are by his, and beyond his wife and family, that relationship means more to him than anything else in the world,” Carlin says.
For the last several decades, Springsteen has raised money for a local food bank at nearly every show. Additionally, he frequently appears at benefits for various causes, including 9/11 victims and most recently, efforts to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy. “Philanthropy, and the socially responsible mindset it represents, are central pillars in the guy’s moral and aesthetic vision,” Carlin says.
The 2013 MusiCares dinner will be the largest in the event’s 23-year history with approximately 3,000 people attending. For the first time, the evening sold out before The Recording Academy even printed invitations, which means, as Portnow points out, the money saved on printing and mailing invites goes straight to the bottom line.
Last year’s event with McCartney raised a record-setting $6.5 million, and Portnow expects that record to topple once again. “Bruce is a competitive person in the best sense of that description,” he says, “and I know that his heart and his mind is to top last year.”Additionally, MusiCares recently finished a two-year capital campaign that raised more than $12.5 million, including $5 million in a matching grant from Zomba Group founder Clive Calder. Going forward, Portnow hints that there could be a few changes coming for the annual dinner: “We don’t have a specific template precisely about who we honor; there are no hard and fast rules,” he says. “Person of the year could be persons of the year We’ve typically skewed this in terms of artists who have been around for a fair amount of time, but the landscape looks a little different today. I believe there’s another generation of artists who are stepping up and are iconic too.”
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