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Barry Manilow Named Icon, Warner/Chappell Wins Top Publisher, Justin Tranter Calls for ‘More LGBTQ’ Songwriters at BMI Awards

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 09:  Recording artist Barry Manilow accepts the BMI Icon Award at the Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI) honors Barry Manilow at the 65th Annual BMI Pop Awards on May 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for BMI) *** Local Caption *** Barry Manilow
Getty Images for BMI

Warner/Chappell was named Publisher of the Year, Justin Tranter and Ross Golan were Songwriters of the Year, Shawn Mendes’ “Stitches” was Song of the Year, and Barry Manilow received the Icon Award at the 65th Annual BMI Pop Awards on Tuesday night. Warner/Chappell saw 17 of its songwriters’ tunes taking trophies.

The event, held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, honors the most performed songs of the year and the writers behind them. Halsey, Rachel Platten, Andy Grammer and Charlie Puth were among the singer- songwriters on hand. “Last year BMI collected more royalties than any group, and we’re going to smash that record,” said BMI president and CEO Mike O’Neill.

Yet the evening’s most attention-grabbing quote came when Tranter and Golan accepted their Songwriters of the Year awards, which the Tranter used as a platform to encourage greater diversity in writing rooms. “Tonight we’re honoring Barry Manilow,” who recently came out and revealed his marriage to business partner Garry Kief. “Put more LGBTQ people in your sessions, please. Also, [Tranter’s frequent collaborator] Julia Michaels is a Latina. Put more women, and more women of color, in your sessions, and do it now.”

Golan was honored for his work on Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman,” Andy Grammer’s “Good to Be Alive,” Flo Rida’s “My House,” and Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love”; Tranter was honored for DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” Nick Jonas’ “Close,” Gomez’s “Hands to Myself and Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” Both are Warner/Chappell writers. (See a complete winners’ list here.)

With more than 85 million records sold, Barry Manilow received the group’s Icon Award. In presenting it, O’Neill provided context for the honoree being one of the most-performed songwriters in history: his top seven songs have generated 9 million spins on terrestrial radio. “It would take a radio station playing those songs back-to-back consecutively more than 60 years to hit 9 million spins.”

Manilow said that although he loves producing, arranging and performing, “my heart is in composing music, and songwriting is what BMI is all about.” He recalled his days as a struggling songwriter, when BMI advanced funds “when I was having a really bad year, trying to make a living in the music business. I will always be grateful.”

Manilow, who recently released his 30th studio album, “This I s My Town: Songs of New York,” used his stage time to encourage the young writers in the room. “I was where you were all those years ago. You sound great, every song. You’ve got a great future ahead, every one of you.”

Throughout the evening, the 50 best performing BMI songs of the past year were cited and excerpted, leading up to the announcement of the BMI Pop Song of the Year: songwriters Teddy Geiger, D.J. Kyriakides and Danny Parker’s “Stitches,” performed by Shawn Mendes.

Commenting on his company’s extraordinary night, Warner/Chappell chairman/CEO, Jon Platt credited a team effort. “As a publisher, our job is to nurture songwriters and help them achieve their dreams. More than anything, that’s about a committed A&R team working hard to put these sessions together,” Platt said, noting of his co-heads of A&R, “Katie Vinten and Ryan Press are two of the most dynamic people you’ll find on the planet. I’m so glad these songwriters trust us as collaborators. We don’t do it for the awards, but tonight feels great.” (The award was technically presented to Warner Tamerlane, Warner/Chappell’s BMI affiliate.)

The evening was also celebrated of the career and contributions of BMI senior VP of writer/publisher Relations Phillip Graham, who later this year retires after four decades with the organization. Graham – who received a standing ovation, recalled being hired by BMI’s Frances Preston to cut grass while attending college in Nashville. “I never dreamed it would be an opportunity to work with such crazy and talented people for the next 40 years,” he said when presenting the BMI Pop Song of the Year Award.

Asked how the industry has changed during his tenure, Graham observed, “there are many more songwriters on some of these songs. There are still the individual voices, but on some of them, it’s quite a group effort. Things have gotten very lively.”