Music legends collided in New York on Thursday night at the 43rd Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where Stevie Nicks presented Bette Midler with the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award.
“This thing has been going on for 43 years and this is the first time I’ve been invited? I’m kind of annoyed,” said Midler, accepting her trophy, in typical tongue-in-cheek form.
“First I was a tramp, then a visionary. Then I was an icon, then an institution. This is an award for tenacity,” she joked, thanking people including her daughter, her “long-suffering husband,” “the family that I had, as nutty as they were” and a team of managers and publicists “subjected to my vast insecurity.”
She continued: “I would also like to thank people who love me unconditionally even when I was at my worst. Which is, unfortunately, a lot.”
The Grammy winning-Midler has released 15 albums, fronted 19 live tours and has sold more than 30 million records worldwide. The singer and actress’ chart-topping hits include “Wind Beneath My Wings,” “The Rose” and “From a Distance.”
Nicks, wearing dark sunglasses and black pants and jacket, performed “The Rose” in homage to Midler, calling her a “songwriters’ dream” in an introduction speech: “She takes each song and sings them as if she had written them herself.”
The ceremony, held at the Marriott Marquis in midtown Manhattan, also paid tribute to inductees Bob Seger, Gordon Lightfoot, “The Gambler” songwriter Don Schlitz and Jim Steinman, who wrote material for Meat Loaf on his two Bat Out of Hell albums.
“He has a flair for the epic as well as the dramatic,” intoned Meat Loaf, presenting Steinman with his award. “Singing Jimmy Steinman songs allowed me to be the actor that I am.”
During his equally epic speech, the singer compared Steinman to the writer Samuel Beckett (whom he ranked as second to William Shakespeare in the Greatest Writers of All Time category). Then he choked up, saying: “Oh, here I go again — emotional! I can never repay him.”
Steinman, as dry-humored as Meat Loaf is effusive, commenting on his friend and colleague’s earlier, edited-down duet of “Bat Out of Hell” with Broadway singer-actor Constantine Maroulis, saying: “They shortened the song so much I felt like I was watching an episode of Glee.”
Singer Valerie Simpson performed Seger’s ballad “We’ve Got Tonight” on the piano. “It’s one of the sexiest songs I know, it put more people in bed than I can imagine,” she said.
The crowd of 850-plus attendees clapped and sang along as Kenny Rogers crooned one of the night’s biggest crowd pleasers — his 1978 hit “The Gambler,” written by Schlitz, whose other hits include Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen” and Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing at All.”
Steve Miller sang Lightfoot’s “Sundown,” and Lightfoot — nearly tripping on his guitar cord — captured complete attention with his melancholy-soaked classic “If You Could Read My Mind.”
Singer Ben E. King of “Stand By Me” fame won the Towering Performance Award for the timeless anthem along with the song’s co-writer Mike Stoller. Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nancy Guthrie, accepted a Pioneer Award on behalf of her late folk singer father, who wrote “This Land Is Your Land.” Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt were inducted into the Songwriters Hall for their Broadway musical The Fantasticks. In the audience: music mogul Clive Davis, a surprise attendee.
Meanwhile, Ne-Yo, a three-time Grammy winner whose hits include “Closer” and “Miss Independent,” added a dose of youth to the event, where he picked up the Hal David Starlight Award, given to young artists making an impact with original music.
“I didn’t write an acceptance speech honestly because part of me can’t believe that I’m standing here on this stage,” he mused. “Man, the man who wrote ‘The Gambler’ is here! What am I doing?!”