Though it traces its foundation all the way back to 1969, when Johnny Mercer established a nonprofit institution to honor the hitmakers and tunesmiths who didn’t always find themselves in the spotlight, the Songwriters Hall of Fame has often been forced into competition with its flashier younger sibling, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Which is why it must feel like a sweet coup for the Songwriters Hall to induct Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards (posthumously), creative hub of the pioneering funk/disco group Chic, after the intransigent Rock Hall has continually nominated and then passed them over for an entire decade.
Of course, most of the rest of the inductees can easily be found in both institutions in one way or another, from rock ’n’ roll veterans Elvis Costello and Tom Petty to the late Marvin Gaye, with Chip Taylor, who penned such rock and country standards as “Wild Thing” — celebrating its 50th anniversary this year — and “Angel of the Morning,” representing the all-important class of non-performing songwriters.
The organization will also award Lionel Richie its Johnny Mercer Award, the Hall’s highest honor, with Nick Jonas taking the Hal David Starlight Award, given to promising young songwriters. Sire Records founder Seymour Stein will be on hand to pick up the Howie Richmond Hitmaker Award, in honor of his role shepherding Talking Heads, the Pretenders and the Smiths to stardom.
As Hall co-chair Kenneth Gamble says, the lineup is “a beautiful mosaic of the best of late 20th century popular music.”
This year will also mark the first class inducted by the Hall’s new co-chairmen, the songwriting team of Gamble and Leon Huff. The two were elected after last year’s induction ceremony — they were themselves honored with the group’s Johnny Mercer Award the year before that — while longtime leader Linda Moran remains as president/CEO. The two have been particularly visible throughout the past year, helping to boost an institution that still is without a full-scale home.
Perhaps more than any other position in the recorded music landscape, songwriters have found themselves at the forefront of some of the more pressing battles over digital royalties and copyright, and this year’s honorees are no exception: Petty was involved in an amicably resolved dispute over Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” while Gaye’s estate was plaintiff in a not-at-all amicable lawsuit against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke over “Blurred Lines.” But if past events are any indication, the June 9 ceremony will strive for a purely celebratory vibe, as well as inaugurating a new scholarship.
In addition to the gala event each June, the Songwriters Hall is looking to expand its year-round outreach and educational offerings. At last year’s ceremony, Curtis Mayfield’s widow, Altheida, announced the creation of a scholarship dubbed the Curtis Mayfield Award, which will be awarded for the first time at this week’s ceremony. The Hall has organized master sessions and lectures at USC and NYU, with the past year’s sessions conducted by Bill Withers, Linda Perry, Rosanne Cash, Lamont Dozier and Desmond Child.