Paul Williams — singer, actor, writer of hits ranging from “We’ve Only Just Begun” to “Rainbow Connection” and, not least, president of ASCAP — will be the 2020 recipient of the Johnny Mercer Award at the 51st Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Dinner, taking place June 11 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York.
The Johnny Mercer Award is the highest honor bestowed by the Hall, “exclusively reserved for a songwriter or songwriting team who has already been inducted in a prior year, and whose body of work is of such high quality and impact, that it upholds the gold standard set by the legendary Johnny Mercer.”
Williams, whose songs have been recorded by artists ranging from Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra to David Bowie, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald and, of course, Kermit the Frog, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001. His recording career enjoyed a big second wind in 2014 when he won his third Grammy Award, for his work as a featured performer on Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” which won Best Album that year.
“It feels so great,” Williams tells Variety of the honor. “There are a few lyricists who are simply beyond the pale in terms of their elegance and expertise, and the pinnacles are Lorenz Hart, Johnny Burke and of course Johnny Mercer.” He briefly quotes a line from Mercer and Henry Mancini’s classic “Moon River” — “‘My huckleberry friend’: Who says that?!”
He continues with a sentiment many honorees say at the SHOF: “A huge part of this honor is the fact that it’s given by peers, by people that I love so much. It’s like having your family say, ‘We’re proud of you.’ When I first joined ASCAP in 1972, one great thing was that I didn’t have to give up my ‘fan card,’ and that’s the way I feel at the ceremony every year, I run around the room getting selfies with people, because it’s such a thrill just to be in the same room with them.”
He also gave effusive credit to his collaborators Roger Nichols and Kenny Ascher, “they’ve been such a huge part of my success,” he says, adding with a laugh, “and if I don’t mention them, Kermit will show up and say, ‘You’re an embarrassment!’”
SHOF Chairman Nile Rodgers said, “Paul Williams is a songwriter’s songwriter. He’s one of the most wonderful and colorful creators of our time and a man who has given the world so much love through songs like ‘Just an Old Fashioned Love Song,’ ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ and ‘Rainbow Connection.’ As my fellow collaborator on Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” it’s a pleasure for all of us at the Songwriters Hall Of Fame to be able to repay that love with the prestigious Johnny Mercer Award to go along with his Oscar, three Grammy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and Ivor Novello International Award, as well as his earned induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.”
“The Rainbow Connection,” from the children’s classic “The Muppet Movie,” co-written with Ascher, is one of two Williams’ two songs that grace the American Film Institute’s List of Top Movie Songs of All Time; the second, “Evergreen,” co-written with Barbra Streisand, is from the award-winning Barbra Streisand/ Kris Kristofferson remake of “A Star Is Born.” Additional song scores include the cult favorites “Phantom of the Paradise,” “Ishtar,” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” While “Bugsy Malone” and “Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas” have both been adapted for the stage, the puppets will enjoy a holiday run at the New Victory Theater later this year.
Williams created the story and wrote the songs for Disney’s Emmy-nominated “A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa” and penned the music and lyrics for Garry Marshall’s theatrical show “Happy Days.” Along with Daft Punk, his recent work has writing with Gustavo Santaolalla for the animated film, “The Book of Life” which received a World Soundtrack Award for their “Apology Song”. They also collaborated on Guillermo del Toro’s stage musical adaptation of “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
As President and Chairman of the Board of ASCAP since 2009, Paul is a leading spokesman for music creators in the digital age. In addition to music creators’ rights, Paul is also passionate about recovery and works tirelessly to destigmatize alcoholism and addiction. His career, life, and work in recovery have been chronicled in the documentary, “Paul Williams Still Alive,” for which Paul wrote the title track. Sober nearly 30 years, his humorous observations of life, love, and creativity, augmented by the education and knowledge he gained through his studies and certification from UCLA as a Certified Drug Rehabilitation Counselor, has been shared in a book co-written with Tracey Jackson entitled “Gratitude and Trust: Six Affirmations That Will Change Your Life.”
Inductees at this year’s event include Mariah Carey, Eurythmics (Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart), the Isley Brothers, Steve Miller, the Neptunes (Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams), Rick Nowels and William “Mickey” Stevenson.