NEW YORK – Lady Gaga turned up in a black bra and dark panties before switching to a zebra-striped suit. Tony Bennett stuck to old-fashioned blue, while Stephen Colbert looked at home in denim and a cowboy hat.
Bennett, Colbert, Lady Gaga and Van Morrison were among the featured singers and speakers Thursday night at the 46th annual Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony, a three hour journey through the vast and unpredictable range of American music.
New inductees included country stars Toby Keith and Bobby Braddock, the late Chicago bluesman Willie Dixon, the Grateful Dead songwriting team of Robert Hunter and the late Jerry Garcia, pop and stage star Cyndi Lauper and rock composer and performer Linda Perry.
Amazement and gratitude were common reactions.
“I still can’t believe I make a living making music,” Lauper said during her speech.
Morrison and Lady Gaga picked up honorary prizes, while awards also were presented to Nate Ruess and the former CEO of the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), John LoFrumento.
At the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, admirers from across genres and generations exchanged tributes. The 88-year-old Bennett presented Lady Gaga, his duet partner, with a “Contemporary Icon Award” after Lady Gaga and Perry honoured each other. Gaga stormed through Perry’s “What’s Up?” and Perry said it was “crazy” that a song she dashed off in her bedroom, fighting off fleas from her dog, would be embraced by a world famous performer.
Canada’s Carly Rae Jepsen faithfully sang Lauper’s moody ballad “Time After Time” and Michael Bublé crooned a finger-snapping version of Morrison’s “Moondance.”
A segment on Dixon featured a speech by Elton John’s songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, who called him the Shakespeare of the blues and noted that many bands in England in the ’60s started out by playing “Little Red Rooster,” ”Back Door Man” and other Dixon standards. Taupin credited Dixon with loading up British artists such as the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton with great material and giving them “the wings to fly.”
Colbert seemed an unexpected choice to introduce Keith, but the future Late Night host kicked right into “As Good As I Once Was,” the stage musicians laughing and grinning behind him. Colbert later explained to the audience that Keith had been an early and appreciated guest on his Comedy Central program, so well remembered that Colbert on Thursday held up a pillow stitched with a profane compliment Keith once paid him.
Keith added during his acceptance speech: “I like to give the finger a lot and you can’t give the finger better than having Stephen Colbert” present your award.
Hunter, who wrote lyrics for “Truckin,'” “Friend of the Devil” and other Dead favourites, had the crowd clapping as he strummed a guitar and sang “Ripple,” with its plaintive question, “Would you hear my voice come through the music?”
Morrison, the night’s final act, had a more practical take. Looking like a Blues Brother in his familiar black, with dark shades to match, he noted how songwriting royalties keep the money coming in during dry spells in his career and talked of convincing Buble to record a duet with him of Morrison’s hit “Real Real Gone.”
“So the name of the game is hustle,” he said.