Opening night at NAMM featured The 34th Annual American Eagle Awards sponsored by the National Music Council. This year’s honorees included country artist Crystal Gale, writer and actor Harry Shearer, and artist, songwriter and “punk poet laureate” Patti Smith. The National Music Council celebrates 77 years and includes 50 music organizations that challenge music affairs on a national level and strengthens the importance of music in culture, education, and everyday life.
Opening the show was NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond who talked about partnering with the National Music Council to hold their 34th Annual American Eagle Awards at Summer NAMM. Lamond talked about sharing a vision with this “national/international group” who “works on music education and fairness so all children have access to music education” and why it’s important to NAMM. He said it’s the passion that drives us, and says that at one point,whether it was seeing the Beatles for the first time in February 1964, or another band, that “we were all struck by the passion for music and then it became our life.” He went on to say that “we envision a world where every child has an absolute desire to make their own music. And we envision a world in which every child, every child, has a recognized right to be taught. And finally, why we’re here. We recognize that this world is where every adult … is a passionate defender of that right. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we do what we do.”
David Sanders, Director, National Music Council, took the stage to welcome the honorees and guests. The NMC has been presenting the American Eagle Awards for over three decades to individuals and institutions who make truly grounding breaking contributions to musical life in America. He gave a shot out to past honorees, and one in particular who was in attendance Paul Shaffer, and to another individual who was the co-creator of Woodstock in 1969, Arnie Kornfeld. NMC not only honors performers, they also recognize music educators, producers and promoters who shape the music industry today.
Iconic Nashville award-winning songwriter and friend of Crystal Gale, Richard Leigh presented the first award of the evening to Crystal. Leigh’s career spans four decades, he has received seven Song of the Year nominations, had nine #1 records, received a Grammy award, CMA award and recently was bestowed SESAC’s Songwriter Legacy Award. Leigh is known for penning Gale’s hits “I’ll Get Over You” and “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” among many other songs. He recalled when he first met Gale in the early ‘70s, recounted her numerous accolades, acknowledged that meeting her changed his life, and said “she was one of the most beautiful people in the world- inside and out.” He also said she is one of the most inspiring musicians having an impact on “young girls looking in the mirror, singing through hair brush microphones, dreaming of being like Crystal Gale.”
Upon accepting her award, Gale reminisced about growing up in Butcher Holler and how her “music education was singing and playing instruments on the front porch. … Music was just a way of life.” She talked further about what an honor it was to receive this award, especially from an organization that promotes music education in our schools. When her family moved to Wabash, Indiana as a young child, she became very involved in the school music program and credits her teacher, Mr. Steiner, who guided her and supported her throughout her time at school, and how they remained friends for life. She said, “music heals the soul; music is joy.”
Crystal Gale joined Richard Leigh on guitar onstage to perform an acoustic version of her hit single “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” to which she received a standing ovation. What a treat! Stay tuned for her new album produced by her son which will be released later this year titled Am I That Easy To Forget.
Next up for an award was Harry Shearer who has had a successful acting career over the years with appearing on Saturday Night Live, Miami Vice, and Dawson’s Creek, to name just a few. He’s a voice-over artist on The Simpsons, and co-wrote several films (Real Life with Albert Brooks, Fernwood 2 Night, This Is Spinal Tap). Not only did he co-write This Is Spinal Tap, he also starred in the cult classic as Derek Smalls. Harry is a passionate advocate for creators and artists and was deservedly awarded the American Eagle Award. Presenting the award was none other than celebrated director and musician Paul Shaffer.
Shaffer added a touch of humor to the evening with his jokes and what seemed like a roast to Shearer, but also talked how about what a fierce advocate Shearer is for artists rights. This is based on Shearer’s own experience writing This Is Spinal Tap, to which he only earned $84 from a movie that came out in 1984 and keeps growing and becoming more famous. Shearer is partnering with other members from the movie, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner, to take this battle to court. Shaffer then played a silly song he said represents Harry.
Harry accepted the award and said he was deeply humbled and talked about his beginnings in music. He started out on piano at four years old, and then later switched to bass and played by ear. He works with the Tipitina’s Foundation in New Orleans which is doing the important work of getting musical instruments into the schools of New Orleans. He’s also involved working with organizations internationally to help creators of music and film in asserting the rights of the talent in fair compensation. Harry said, “Our problem as the talent is that a good number of us would do this stuff for free- and the Man knows it.”
Vector Management’s General Manager, John Ingrassia (Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Maher, Beyonce, Tony Bennett) was up next to introduce Patti Smith, but first showed a video greeting from Laurie Anderson who was not able to attend. Talking about Patti Smith, Laurie said, “Of course, she is one of America’s greatest poets. She knows how things sound and what they mean, and as a writer, of course, she’s able to bring worlds into view. Patti is a fighter – she’s done so many things for the Tibet House, climate change, human rights, and artists rights. She’s fierce.”
Ingrassia talked about how in 2003 when he was an Executive Vice President with Columbia Records, he got a call from Rosemary Power who is a fierce artist advocate attorney in New York, asking if they wanted to sign Patti to Columbia Records as she was now done with her long-time label Arista. He said, “As a music executive, that’s the kind of phone call that you hope to get some day, but if you’re a music fan and a lover of great art and artists, that the kind of phone call you dream about getting.” He spoke of Patti’s achievements and accomplishments from albums like Horses to Tramping. He also talked her about her first album Horses (1975) as being the most “powerful record that merged true poetry and true rock and roll in a way that’s hardly ever been done before or since and for that alone she deserves this award.” Her list of accomplishments is so long, it reads like Wikipedia. He went on to talk about what a warm, humble, caring and loving person Patti is.
Smith accepted the award and humbly said she had not prepared an acceptance speech, so decided to read from the program the “5 Music Rights” which includes the right for all children and adults to “express themselves musically in all freedom” and “to have access to musical involvement through participation, listening, creation, and information.” She said she had never really dreamed of being a musician, that she had always wanted to be a writer and poet. It was in grade school when a music teacher brought his record collection to school which consisted of Giuseppe Verdi and Puccini. While most of the kids were hurling spit balls at the collection, she loved them and adored her teacher. She said she received quite a musical education in a very rural, lower middle-class school. She was grateful to her teacher who she said was not quite appreciated and even thinks of him now. Smith said, “Music in the schools is so important. It allows children, adolescents, and teenagers to express things that are hidden, express their confusion. For me, music allows us to translate the poetry of the soul that draws us to dance, it allows us to vent, sing of love, gauge our sorrow, and in its purest form, it has no walls nor boundaries, and it is as Crystal Gale said, a healing thing.”
Attendees were delighted with a performance by Patti Smith with her bass player, Tony Shanahan, on guitar performing “Wing” a song which she wrote in 1993 while in South Carolina with her family. Her husband was not doing well and they were out at dinner. Her children ran outside to play while they were sitting in the restaurant and she was watching her children playing outside chasing wild geese. To her it was a happy, carefree moment as she watched the geese flying away and her children looking on. She decided to write this song which addresses all their future strife and all her hopes for their future joy.
The ceremony concluded with a powerful performance by Patti Smith (vocals), Crystal Gayle (vocals), Harry Shearer (bass), Paul Shaffer (keys), Tony Shanahan (guitar) and Joe Lamond (drums) performing Smith’s anthem, “People Have the Power” co-written with her late husband Fred Smith about the importance of the individual, and your health, and the importance of unity- when all individuals meet and unite, that what they can do together as a unit is infinite. The audience was on their feet singing along. What a great opportunity to see such iconic musicians on stage in such a personal setting!
The National Music Council’s slogan is “The Million Voices for America’s Music” and support so many wonderful causes for the music community. One such cause is the fair-trade music movement to help in the unfair payment practices toward artists and music creators. They also advocate legislation that would create a “small claims” proceeding that would allow a cost-effective way for all music creators to enforce their rights against infringers. These actions typically cost millions of dollars, leaving the ability to sue only to the richest creators. NMC is assisting in the movement to establish a communications network among music creators and recording artists across the globe by working with groups such as Music Creators North America, the European Composer and Songwriter, CIAM, and many others. Last, but not least, they provide support for music education across the globe. Music that was created here in America in cities like Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles and more is the envy of the world and should be a blueprint for teaching that forward to the next generation of creators. More information about NMC can be found on their website at www.musiccouncil.org.