The Grammys might be the most well-known music awards show in the world, but the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s ceremony is arguably the most unique. The invite-only event, being held June 16 at the Marriott Marquis in New York City, and its awards honor the most important and yet most frequently overlooked people in the music business — the songwriter, duh — and it resembles a cross between the Grammys and an annual family reunion for the tight-knit songwriting and music-publishing community.
At each ceremony, superstars receiving honors frequently tell the room that the accolade means more to them than any other award they’ve received, because it’s an endorsement and a validation from their peers. It’s a place where Lionel Richie said, “I am humbled by the greatness in this room.” It’s a space where you’ll see superstars such as Billy Joel or Smokey Robinson or Ed Sheeran lauding the likes of Allee Willis, John Bettis and Chip Taylor as equals, as influences, as icons — because they know that person wrote or co-wrote “September,” “Top of the World” or “Wild Thing,” even if much of the world doesn’t.
The hours-long show’s musical performers are invariably A-list: Over the years we’ve seen Neil Diamond, Drake, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Van Morrison, Cyndi Lauper, John Prine, Leon Russell, Elvis Costello and dozens of others, along with several completely unique homages: Lady Gaga singing Four Non-Blondes’ hit “What’s Up” to Linda Perry; Stevie Nicks belting “The Rose” to Bette Midler; Emmylou Harris performing Eric Clapton’s heartbreaking hit “Tears in Heaven” for the song’s co-writer Will Jennings; and one year, the evening ended with Billy Joel and Garth Brooks duetting at the piano in matching Stetson hats. As with Clive Davis’ preGrammy gala, a video compilation of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame’s countless classic performances would be one of the music world’s few remaining unturned stones (and is unlikely to happen, at least not in the near future, due to rights clearances). There’s literally nothing else like it.
The Hall’s upcoming 51st ceremony is being held belatedly, picking up where it left off with the show it would have presented in 2020, according to Hall CEO and de facto godmother Linda Moran, a former top executive at Warner Music.
Inductees are Mariah Carey — pictured above during her hilarious 2018 speech inducting Jermaine Dupri — Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, the Isley Brothers, Steve Miller, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, Lana Del Rey/ Stevie Nicks collaborator Rick Nowels and Motown veteran William “Mickey” Stevenson.
Master songwriter and ASCAP president Paul Williams will receive the prestigious Johnny Mercer Award, Lil Nas X will be honored with the Hal David Starlight Award for promising young songwriters and Universal Music Publishing chairman-CEO Jody Gerson will receive the Abe Olman Publisher Award.
“The thought that we have created an event that brings out such strong feelings, and that everyone is looking forward to as a catharsis after being cooped up during COVID, is incredibly gratifying,” Moran tells Variety. “It is like a family reunion, and when we discussed the possibility of changing the venue or the format of the show, I realized that people want the familiarity and the comfort of returning home as they remember it.”
She notes that the organizers are taking “extraordinary COVID precautionary measures,” lowering the number of tables and attendees to create more space, requiring proof of vaccination and recommending masks, and the invitation notes that “further requirements may be put into place.” Moran also says onstage microphones will be changed frequently, and there will be no backstage area or green rooms in an effort to protect the performers.
Yet such precautions are unlikely to overshadow the event’s festive atmosphere. “It’s not going to matter so much who is onstage, but rather the people in the room, whom you haven’t seen for years,” Moran concludes. “It’s the joyfulness and warmth of being together again, celebrating songwriters and music.