UPDATED: At the annual meeting of the National Music Publishers Association in New York on Wednesday, Yoko and Sean Ono Lennon received the organization’s new Centennial Song award for John Lennon’s legendary 1971 song “Imagine” — and Yoko received more than that. NMPA CEO David Israelite showed a video from 1980 wherein John said that Yoko deserved a songwriting credit for “Imagine” because of her influence and inspiration on it — and Israelite announced that in accordance with Lennon’s wish, Yoko will be added to the song as a co-writer.
Cornered by Variety after the event, Israelite confirmed that the process to add Yoko’s credit, while not yet confirmed, is already under way, but he said that the NMPA and Downtown Music Publishing, which administers both Ono’s and Lennon’s solo compositions, are optimistic that it will be confirmed. While Israelite initially said that adding Ono to the credits would extend the period of time before the song enters the public domain, he later corrected himself and noted that because the song was published in 1971, the life of its copyright lasts 95 years after publication — not the current law, instituted in 1978, which extends the copyright 70 years after the death of the last author. Adding Ono as a writer will not extend the life of its copyright. Downtown Music CEO Justin Kalifowitz said: “We are delighted to have worked with the National Music Publishers’ Association in recognizing Yoko Ono’s contribution to this extraordinary song. It was truly a historic evening for sharing credit where credit was due.”
At the ceremony, held at Cipriani, Yoko took the stage to accept her award in a wheelchair, pushed by Sean. While her words were partially obscured both by her accent and the echo from room’s high ceilings, she spoke briefly about how her illness — she is suffering from an unclear flu-like ailment — has made her appreciate the song and other elements of life more fully, and said “This is the best time of my life,” to applause. She continued, “And I am so surprised that Sean created his own vision —” But then Sean, whose long hair, beard, fedora and dark suit made him look startlingly like his father circa 1969, gently took the microphone and said, charmingly, “Let’s not talk about me!,” to laughter. He spoke briefly about the importance of music education in schools, and how much his father learned at art college. “So let’s not let any generation be denied the opportunity of letting those parts of their imaginations [thrive].”
An emotional Patti Smith, accompanied on piano by her daughter Jessie, then performed the song, mixing up the lyrics a little and pausing at times to compose herself.
Because Ono is a beneficiary of Lennon’s estate, the move is not as complicated financially as it might have been were she not. However, virtually everything involving The Beatles and the vast fortune they generated has many ramifications, so more legal maneuvering is likely in the months and years to come.