"A song will outlive all sermons in the memory." - Henry Giles
It isn't difficult to recognize the power of song. It takes just a few moments to recall those tunes that have stayed with us through our lives, or marked important moments in our personal evolution and relationships, whether celebratory or challenging. It is pretty amazing how a three-minute story or idea set to melody and rhythm can have such a tremendous and lasting impact. Classic songs like John Lennon's "Imagine," or Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable," have left a seemingly timeless impression across countless cultural and generational boundaries, resonating in the hearts and memories of hundreds of millions of people.
Out of the song emerged an entire industry, celebrated this past week in Los Angeles and culminating with Sundays telecast of the Grammy Awards, otherwise known as "Music's Biggest Night." While some critics may turn their noses up at what they consider an over-commercialization of music recognized by the event, I am happy to report that music was also being recognized and honored for the value it has in our lives, and in critical areas of our society, like education.
A couple of notable events of Grammy Week that shined a light on these higher values, and on the importance of the song in the evolution of society, included:
- The Grammy Foundation Legacy concert, "A Song Is Born," at the Wilshire Ebell Theater: This event was a songwriter's dream, bringing together the crème-de-la-crème of popular songwriters doing rare performances of their own work. Some highlights included performances by Skylar Grey, Gaven McGraw, Dan Wilson, Paul Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Cropper and Bonnie Raitt. The cause uniting them, beyond the songs and community, was a commitment to keep music alive for the next generations by donating all proceeds to support critical music preservation and education initiatives.
- MusiCares Benefit Gala and Tribute to Carole King at the L.A. Convention Center: Carole King is considered one of the most successful female songwriters of the past 50 years, contributing to 118 pop hits, including countless classics like "You've Got a Friend" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman". In addition to providing the soundtrack to so many people's lives, Carole still remains a committed and outspoken advocate for environmental and other important social causes. Many admirers turned out to perform Carole King's songs in her honor, including Alicia Keys, Pink, Lady Gaga, Sara Bareilles and James Taylor.
- Children's Grammy Nominee Concert at the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater: Not only did this event raise money for music programs for kids, it celebrated the most popular artists that make music specifically for those kids. Although lesser known, this is a growing and important part of the Grammy programming -- to spotlight a community of artists focusing on children and the music created to help them grow and learn.
- Inaugural Music Educator Grammy Award: 2014 marked an important moment in Grammy history -- the offering of the first Grammy award for Music Teachers. This comes at a critical time, when music programs across the country have been decimated by funding cuts and a narrowing focus of STEM-based programming. The recognition of the critical role a great music teacher can play in the lives and development of young students is long past overdue. The inclusion, however, in such a high profile media event is a great step toward helping our nation and its leaders recognize the essential need to re-instate and support music education programs in schools across America. If you have any doubt as to the benefit a great music teacher can bring to a child's life, it is worth taking a look at the CBS profile on this year's prizewinner, Kent Knappenberger ("Mr. K"). The ripple effect of establishing the award was also quite powerful. Over 30,000 music educators were nominated by their peers for this year's Grammy, giving recognition and pride to dedicated and under-appreciated teachers across the country.
The evening raised 5.5 million for MusiCares, which provide emergency financial assistance and addition recovery programs to musicians in need.
It is reassuring to experience these times when music -- something at the core of everyone's heart, can give heart to an industry that is often looked upon as uncaring. The power of a great song is that it sees no barriers and can, as Bono put it, "thaw the hardest hearts." Music is also essential to the development of our children's minds, social adaptability and overall well-being. As I like to put it: "A good meal can feed a man for a day, but a great song can feed a million souls for a lifetime."
My hope is that, after the glitter and glamor of Grammy week has faded, the spotlight can continue to shine bright on, and draw the world's attention to music's critical role in these other areas of our lives and society. Maybe one day there will even be a Billboard Chart for the year's top songs ranked by their positive social impact, and artists will be rated -- not by the number of records they sold, but rather by the number of hearts they have truly touched, and by their contributions to the betterment of humanity.
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