Taylor Swift accepted her third trophy as the songwriter-artist of the year by the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) at a private gala celebration in Nashville on Sunday night (Oct. 17). Swift was recognized for writing “Fifteen,” “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me.” Her award was presented early in the evening, prior to the previously-announced induction of Pat Alger, Steve Cropper and the late Paul Davis and Stephen Foster into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Swift did not perform at the event, but the Hall of Fame inductees were later honored with renditions of their most popular songs performed by the likes of Garth Brooks, T. Graham Brown, Tyler Bryant, Jim Lauderdale, Tanya Tucker and Jimmy Wayne.
In addition, Chris DuBois was named songwriter of the year for his contributions to Brad Paisley’s “Then” and “Welcome to the Future,” as well as Craig Morgan’s “This Ain’t Nothin’.” Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me,” written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin, claimed song of the year honors.
After acknowledging a successful year for Douglas, who was seated at the table next to hers, Swift addressed the audience from a podium.
“Since I can remember, my favorite thing in the whole world was a good story — going back to when my mom and dad would read me stories when I was little, and then discovering poetry in English class,” she said. “Then I discovered this town called Nashville, where they tell the coolest stories. In my opinion, they tell them in the most magical ways.
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so generous with me. Whether it was telling fairy tales or sad stories or stories that were just about my life and what I was going through, you’ve been wonderful to me. And I’m having a blast telling stories.”
She added, “Right now, my story is that in about 30 minutes, I’m getting on a plane to go to Paris and then London and then Germany and then New York. And then after that, I have seven days and five hours and 22 minutes until my album comes out.”
Amid a round of applause, Swift implored, “Please wish me luck because I am a nervous wreck. I can’t thank you enough. I can’t thank the songwriters enough for inspiring me, the publishers for being so incredibly supportive. [Sony/ATV Music Publishing] has always been wonderful to me. Thank you for standing up and clapping. That was really nice. And I just really appreciate getting to be here with you guys. Thank you so much.”
Near the end of the night, Alger’s early songwriting career was recalled by producer Allen Reynolds, who detailed Alger’s initial success in Nashville by writing Kathy Mattea’s “Goin’ Gone,” Don Williams’ “True Love” and Hal Ketchum’s “Small Town Saturday Night,” which were promptly sung as a medley by Jimmy Wayne. But it might be impossible to salute Alger without Garth Brooks, who divided his time onstage between providing descriptions of their collaborative process and delivering the fruits of their labor — solo acoustic versions of “Unanswered Prayers,” “That Summer” and “The Thunder Rolls.”
Brooks noted, “I love this guy, and me and him should not love each other. We’re as different as night and day can be. This poor guy has been tormented by me over the last couple of decades. I’ll give you an average writing session for us. Pat is sitting with his pen and his paper, poised. I’ve got a little rubber ball that I’m bouncing off the wall, right above his head. … I’m crawling underneath the chairs and desks like I’m 5 years old, because that’s what I do. Alger’s sitting there about ready to kill me, coming up with all these wonderful lines, thousands of them that you never use.
“But that’s Alger’s thing. Alger understands the craft. That’s what I love about Pat Alger. Pat Alger doesn’t care how or when it gets done. I’ll even go so far as to say, even if it does get done. This is what I’ve always loved about you, partner. He understands that what it is, is what it is. And if you make it to be something it isn’t, it’s never going to live and breathe.”
Brooks also told the crowd that “The Thunder Rolls” was about to go on a Tanya Tucker album, but her producer didn’t think the song was finished. When her project was retooled, Alger and Brooks reclaimed the song — and wrote a fourth verse, which Brooks only sings in concert. Just before concluding with its performance, Brooks said, “I can’t even imagine my career without this song, but even more than that, I can’t imagine my career without you, Pat.”
During his induction speech, Alger introduced his family, thanked his friends and confirmed that Brooks’ ball-bouncing anecdote was absolutely a fact. “I have to tell you, I’ve worked with a lot of fantastic songwriters, and there’s not a finer one I’ve ever worked with than Garth,” he said.
Several of Steve Cropper’s soulful songs were resurrected by newcomer Tyler Bryant, who admitted he’d never been so scared to perform. Yet he did a fine job with “In the Midnight Hour,” famously recorded by Wilson Pickett, and the instrumental “Green Onions,” perhaps the most enduring tune in the catalog of Cropper’s band, Booker T and the MG’s. Bryant and his ensemble also backed T. Graham Brown, whose gritty take on “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” made the crowd believe every word. Cropper shares the writing credit with the late Otis Redding for that classic, which has been played on the radio more than 6 million times. During his time at the podium, Cropper reminisced about saving up money to buy his first guitar, then told the audience that his always-supportive father was in the crowd, celebrating his 90th birthday.
The late Paul Davis was the subject of a handful of candid stories told by friend and frequent collaborator, Paul Overstreet. After that, fellow songwriters J. Fred Knobloch, Kyle Lehning, Ed Seay, Ronn Price, Anthony Martin and Jennifer Kimball offered a medley of Davis’ memorable material, such as “Cool Night,” “I Go Crazy,” “Ride ’Em Cowboy,” “’65 Love Affair,” “Bop” and “Sweet Life.” Tanya Tucker then stepped out to sing “Love Me Like You Used To,” her 1987 country hit co-written by Davis and Buddy Emmons. Davis’ son, Jonathan Paul Davis, accepted for his father, who died in 2008.
Songwriting pioneer Stephen Foster joined the Hall of Fame 146 years after his death. His music was remembered by the trio Mockingbird Sun with a medley of “Oh Susanna,” “Farewell My Lilly Dear,” “Beautiful Dreamer” and “My Old Kentucky Home.” In addition, Jim Lauderdale delivered a bare-bones rendition of “Hard Times Come Again No More.” Vanderbilt professor of musicology Dale Cockrell accepted the award, calling Foster “the most important composer” and “an American genius.” In addition, former BMI executive Frances Preston was personally honored with the Mentor Award, which will now be named for her.
At the beginning of the event, NSAI also recognized “The 10 Songs I Wish I’d Written,” chosen by professional songwriters. Due to a tie, 11 hit singles with Nashville roots were honored: Easton Corbin’s “A Little More Country Than That” (Rory Lee Feek, Don Poythress, Wynn Varble); Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tractor” (Jim Collins, David Lee Murphy); Lady Antebellum’s “I Run to You” (Tom Douglas, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott) and “Need You Now” (Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott); David Nail’s “Red Light” (Dennis Matowsky, Melissa Peirce, Jonathan Singleton); Tim McGraw’s “Southern Voice” (Bob DiPiero, Tom Douglas); Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” (Jessi Alexander, Jon Mabe); Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” (Tom Douglas, Allen Shamblin); Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” (Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill, Nathan Followill); Lambert’s “White Liar” (Natalie Hemby, Miranda Lambert) and Swift’s “You Belong With Me” (Liz Rose, Taylor Swift).View photos from the Nashville Songwriters Association International gala.