The 2017 Songwriters Hall of Fame 48th Annual Induction and Awards Dinner recognized and celebrated some of the best songwriting legends of our time. Musical titans Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Berry Gordy, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Robert Lamm & James Pankow p/k/a “Chicago,” Max Martin, and Shawn “JAY Z” Carter were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Honored with special awards were Alan Menken with the prestigious Johnny Mercer Award; Ed Sheeran with the Hal David Starlight Award; Pitbull with the first-ever Global Ambassador Award and Caroline Bienstock with the Abe Oleman Publisher Award.
The evening kicked off with Jon Bon Jovi performing an acoustic version of his hit “It’s My Life” before inducting the song’s writer Max Martin. He called Martin a “genius.”
Cassandra Wilson performed an electrifying rendition of Peggy Lee’s “Fever” before Songwriters Hall of Fame co-chairmen, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff honored Caroline Bienstock with the Abe Oleman Publisher Award.
Whoopi Goldberg took to the stage to present Alan Menken with the highest honor bestowed by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Johnny Mercer Award. After accepting his award he sat at the piano for a beautiful medley of his classic scores including “Under The Sea,” “A Whole New World,” “Beauty and the Beast” and more, which had the audience clapping and singing along.
Presenter Train’s Pat Monahan introduced inductees James Pankow & Robert Lamm p/k/a Chicago before performing their hit “Just You And Me” with Pankow on trombone. Prior to their induction, Lamm joined Pankow for their classic song “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” before proclaiming how humbled they are to be in the company of the “greatest songwriters in modern history.”
Johnny Gill brought the audience to its feet with a captivating rendition of “My, My, My” written by inductee Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, who was inducted by Irving Azoff. Following his induction, Edmonds stated “what a blessing it is to do something [he loves]” and what an honor it is to stand in front of his heroes.
The evening continued as past recipient, Benny Blanco took to the stage to honor friend, Ed Sheeran with the Hal David Starlight Award, which is presented to young songwriters who are making a significant impact in the music industry with their original songs. Blanco called Sheeran “one of the greatest live performers he’s ever seen.” After a heartfelt and comical acceptance speech, Sheeran performed “Castle On The Hill.”
Rhonda Ross Kendrick surprised her father and performed a soulful rendition of “To Be Loved” before welcoming music titan Berry Gordy whom she called a “guiding force,” into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Gordy, who shared a special moment with his daughter on stage, told stories from throughout his career, adding “a song is not only a force that evokes emotion; it takes us to another time and place.”
Usher performed an exhilarating medley of “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” “Tender Love,” “Let’s Wait Awhile” and more before inducting the song’s writers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who accepted their award before performing “Human” and “Optimistic.”
A surprise congratulatory video from Barack Obama in recognition of Shawn “JAY Z” Carter becoming the first-ever rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame shocked the audience. Highlights from throughout the inductee’s career played before Jon Platt, CEO of Warner/ Chappell accepted the award on JAY Z’s behalf.
The celebratory evening came to a close as actor, John Leguizamo presented Pitbull, whom he called a “true international superstar,” with the first-ever Global Ambassador Award, created to celebrate a songwriter-artist whose music has true worldwide appeal, crossing genre, cultural and national boundaries. Pitbull, full of gratitude, spoke about the struggles and sacrifices that made him who he is today and said “our music is not only powerful, it’s the universal language.” He then went on to perform a high-energy medley of “Fireball, “Don’t Stop the Party,” “Give Me Everything,” and “Remix,” that had the audience dancing.