Keith, Green and Mayo Are BMI’s Top Country Tunesmiths

A boasting taunt lifted from pickup-game chatter helped Toby Keith capture BMI’s country artist-songwriter of the year honor Tuesday night (Nov. 6).

“We play a lot of sports on the road,” Keith explained before the black-tie awards dinner at BMI’s Music Row offices. “You play golf, basketball or touch football. You’re playing for a dollar a hole and you hit on the green, you go, ‘Hey, how do you like me now?’ That became a saying, so [we decided] to write that.”

Keith — who co-wrote the song with Chuck Cannon — received his honor at the 49th Annual BMI Country Awards based on the success of three songs: “Country Comes to Town,” “How Do You Like Me Now?!” and “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This.” All come from his 1999 album, How Do You Like Me Now?!

Marv Green and Aimee Mayo shared the title of country songwriter of the year as co-writers of three songs: Lonestar‘s “Amazed,” Faith Hill & Tim McGraw‘s “Let’s Make Love” and Joe Diffie‘s “It’s Always Something.”

“I Hope You Dance” received the 33rd Robert J. Burton Award as the most-performed country song on radio and television from April 1, 2000, to March 31, 2001. Tia Sillers was honored for writing the song. Accepting the award, Sillers told the gathering she recently married fellow songwriter Mark Selby. “I Hope You Dance” co-writer Mark D. Sanders is affiliated with rival performing rights organization ASCAP.

BMI chief Frances Preston and Nashville-based vice president Paul Corbin presented citations of achievement to the writers and publishers of the 50 most-performed country songs during the award period. Throughout most of the award presentations, an image of the American flag was displayed on the middle section of a large, three-part video screen.

Willie Nelson received the President’s Award, a special honor for exceptional persons in the entertainment industry. “He’s a man who loves his country, and his country loves him back,” Preston said. Created in 1993, the honor has been given only four times before, to Harlan Howard, Brian Wilson, Earle Hagen and Alabama.

Lee Greenwood serenaded the guests with “God Bless the U.S.A.,” part of a tribute to the victims and rescuers of the Sept. 11 tragedies. Preston presented Greenwood with a newly created Words of Freedom Award. “I’ll sing this song every day I can,” he said, “to protect all of us.”

Three men on duty Sept. 11 attended the dinner: New York Fire Department Lieutenants Michael Dilena and Vincent Louis and New York Police Department Lieutenant Stephen Reardon. Nelson, sporting an NYPD ball cap, sat with them throughout most of the evening.

“To be down there and to be a part of it, and to see the inspiration from everybody from every walk of life is tremendous,” Louis told the gathering. “We thank you for giving us a chance and showing your appreciation to us, because it keeps us going, and we’re very humble.” Preston gave the officers “Profile in Courage” certificates.

Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. was named BMI country publisher of the year, given to the publisher with the highest percentage of ownership in award songs. The company’s copyrights include “I Lost It,” “It’s Always Somethin’,” “Let’s Make Love” and “More.”

Among the guests at the dinner were Brooks & Dunn, Travis Tritt, Sara Evans, Sheryl Crow, Lee Ann Womack, Kenny Chesney, Diamond Rio, Vince Gill and Amy Grant, Keith Urban, Aaron Tippin, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Don Gibson, Bill Anderson, Phil Everly and Earl Scruggs, Kitty Wells and Johnnie Wright.

Founded in 1940, Broadcast Music Incorporated, a performing rights organization, grants licenses and collects royalties for the performance of songs copyrighted by the writers and publishers it represents.

“I’m first and foremost a songwriter,” Keith said Tuesday night. “I’ve been a songwriter since I was a kid and I’ll be a songwriter ’til the day I die. This is what I do.”

Upon leaving, each guest received a copy of a book inspired by I Hope You Dance including a CD single of the song.

Complete list of BMI Award winners.