Beneath a sea of red, white and blue bunting in the Opryland Hotel’s expansive Tennessee Ballroom, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) celebrated a year’s worth of award-winning songs Saturday night (Nov. 3).
Songs, songwriters, artists, a publishing company and a pioneering music executive were given special honors by the performing rights organization at its annual country awards show.
The tone was set for the “Stars & Stripes” — themed evening when the Mt. Juliet High School Drum Corps and a U.S. Marine Corps color guard paraded the colors before the stage’s giant backdrop of an American flag emblazoned with the ASCAP logo.
Nashville singer Greg Barnhill roused the crowd with a stirring version of “America the Beautiful,” and ASCAP Nashville senior vice president Connie Bradley — dressed all in red — was honored by ASCAP CEO John LoFrumento with an award for 25 years of service for the organization. In kicking off the presentation of song awards, Bradley noted that “we awoke to a different world on Sept. 11. Now courage has replaced fear. As we celebrate the success of our members, let’s remember that your songs are powerful and they are a healing force.”
In addition to recognizing the year’s most-performed ASCAP country songs, awards were given for song of the year, songwriter of the year, songwriter/artist of the year and publisher of the year.
Also, Nashville music executive and producer Harold Shedd was honored with ASCAP’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Shedd, whose musical progeny over the years runs the gamut from Reba McEntire , Alabama and K.T. Oslin to Shania Twain , Billy Ray Cyrus and Mark McGuinn , was first honored by McGuinn. He sang “Mrs. Steven Rudy,” the song that Shedd’s independent VFR Records made a hit this past year. Alabama lead singer Randy Owen then extolled Shedd as a man who put the love of music ahead of all other music business considerations. In accepting, Shedd said, “We love Nashville, we love the music and that’s why we do it.”
Keith Follese was named ASCAP songwriter of the year for his songs “The Way You Love Me” (recorded by Faith Hill ) and “Smile” (recorded by Lonestar ). In accepting, Follese thanked “everybody in Nashville, mom and dad and ASCAP and all the writers in Nashville who teach us all every day how to write.”
Phil Vassar was named songwriter/artist of the year, an award bestowed for the first time this year. Vassar was touring and could not attend but sent a video in which he playfully exhorted his fellow songwriters to “get a record deal and then cut your own songs.” He concluded by thanking ASCAP “for sending checks.”
In a tie for song of the year, “The Way You Love Me” (co-written by Follese with Michael Dulaney) ended in a dead heat with “I Hope You Dance,” co-written by ASCAP writer Mark D. Sanders with BMI writer Tia Sillers. Lee Ann Womack , who had a No. 1 hit with “I Hope You Dance,” came on to perform an acoustic version of the song.
EMI Music Publishing, with such hits as “There Is No Arizona” and Vassar’s “Carlene,” was named song publisher of the year.
In a featured musical interlude, newcomer Carolyn Dawn Johnson performed acoustic versions of her songs “Downtime” and “Complicated.” Johnson said she was grateful to be performing, adding, “I long so hard to be part of this community — ASCAP has been a believer in me since I came to town.”
A special “partners in music ” award was given to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Presented by ASCAP senior vice president Vincent Candilora, the honor was accepted by Hall of Fame board chairman E.W. “Bud” Wendell and Hall of Fame director Kyle Young.
Bradley noted that new artist Jamie O’Neal was receiving her first songwriting award for her hit “There Is No Arizona” and said that, while O’Neal was touring and unable to be there, she was on her cell phone and listening to the awards ceremony. So Bradley led the crowd in shouting, “Congratulations, Jamie!”
The evening’s patriotic theme began outside the hotel, where arriving guests were greeted by Uncle Sam, and it extended to dessert. One of several dessert dishes was an individual, all-American apple pie served in a small cast iron skillet at each table setting.