Neil shines like a Diamond at Songwriters Hall of Fame gala
NEW YORK (AP) — Neil Diamond may have retired from touring due to Parkinson’s disease, but the singer didn’t let that stop him from giving a cheery and memorable performance at the 2018 Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony.
Diamond, who was officially inducted into the Hall in 1984, earned the Johnny Mercer Award on Thursday and closed the multi-hour event in New York City with a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline.”
He was happy and excited onstage, performing an extended version of the iconic song, backed by a band and the audience of songwriters and music industry players who sang along.
The 77-year-old, who announced he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in January and canceled planned concerts, barely spoke at the event, where John Mellencamp, Alan Jackson, Kool and the Gang and Jermaine Dupri were inducted as the Hall’s 2018 class.
Allee Willis — who co-wrote the Broadway musical “The Color Purple” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” — was the first inductee of the night. She won over the audience with stories about her father who told her to “stay away from black culture” and her friend whose frisky behavior helped her connect her songs to singers.
“Her sex life was unbelievable for my career,” she said to laughs.
Willis, the only female to be inducted this year, used her speech to honor women who have not received their credit as songwriters and producers.
“I really started thinking about how, at the time, mentally painful it was that the girls were not getting the chances the boys were. So I just want to say, ‘We’re here. We’ve always been here. And we’re no longer the little wilting flowers that we were when it comes to equality.’ So wipe off the seats because here we come.”
Others speeches throughout the night struck with similar emotion.
Inductee and Grammy-nominated country songwriter Steve Dorff wiped the tears from his eyes when he was onstage; his son, actor Stephen Dorff, was also teary-eyed when he spoke about his father during the induction.
Usher was passionate when he inducted Dupri, who has co-written a number of the R&B star’s hits, including “Nice & Slow,” ″U Got It Bad,” ″Burn” and “Confessions Part II.”
“I love you J.D. You’re like the big brother I never had and also the motivator who pushed me when I was at my lowest,” he said.
Mariah Carey, who has collaborated on hits like “We Belong Together” and “Always Be My Baby” with Dupri, made a surprise appearance and received a warm applause from the crowd. The pop diva, who has co-written 17 of her 18 No. 1 hits, was nominated for the Songwriters Hall but didn’t make the final cut.
“Although I am not being inducted this evening — I’ll shed a tear and move on — honestly there’s no one I’d rather see this get accolade than Jermaine Dupri,” she said.
Dupri is the second hip-hop act to be inducted into the organization following Jay-Z’s induction last year.
Inductee and country songwriter Bill Anderson choked up at the end of his speech, quoting lyrics from his song when he spoke about God: “I held the pencil but he wrote the songs, and I firmly believe that.”
The members of Kool & the Gang — Robert “Kool” Bell, Ronald Bell, George Brown and James “JT” Taylor — were also inducted and gave a memorable and upbeat performance with “Celebration,” which got audience members out of their seats.
Lucian Grainge, the CEO and chairman of Universal Music Group, earned the Howie Richmond Hitmaker Award and was honored by The Weeknd, who spoke, and Ariana Grande, who sang “Be Alright.” Grammy and Tony nominee Sara Bareilles received the Johnny Mercer Award and wowed with her performance onstage.
Mellencamp sang “Jack and Diane” and “Longest Days” after getting inducted; R&B singer Fantasia won over the crowd when she sang in honor of Dorff; and Broadway star Brandon Victor Dixon was impressive when he performed for Willis.
Jackson, who has had 26 singles top Billboard’s country charts, said he ran into Clive Davis backstage at the event and recalled a story about how he tried to pitch a song for Whitney Houston.
“And I called Clive and said, ’I wrote this song and I think ole Whitney could sing this thing. And he listened to it and called me back and said, ‘That’s a sweet song.’ And there was a line in there about doing something with the washing machine, and (Clive) said, ‘I’ll be honest with you Alan — I don’t think Whitney’s seen a washing machine in 15 years,’” Jackson said.,