ASCAP Awards bring out stars

Kicking off week of celebration that includes BET Awards

ASCAP's 21st annual Rhythm and Soul Awards Monday night kicked off a celebratory week for musicians and writers already pumped up for the upcoming BET Awards and the cottage industry of parties and events built around them. Host Johnta Austin, along with co-host Jeanie Weems, began the evening reminding the audience that despite declining sales and online file-sharing "the essence of the music, the drive to get it to the masses and the creativity it takes will help the generations that come."

Heavy applause also met Austin's reminder that ASCAP recently won a court decision whereby musicians now receive royalties from AOL and Yahoo for online use of recordings.

In the R&B/Hip Hop songs category, Ludacris came onstage to accept his award for co-writing "Runaway Love" with Keri Hilson. Verdine White of Earth Wind & Fire accepted his and brother Maurice White's co-writer awards for 'Shawty' and Akon accepted an accolade for the song "I Wanna Love You."

Breakout rap-artist Flo Rida led an a cappella chant-along to the chorus of his hit "Low" after hearing feedback from his mike and deadpanning "We got some technical difficulties, yo." The glitch solved, Flo Rida launched into his songs "Low," "In The Ayer," and "Elevator" bringing the crowd to their feet at their tables in the ballroom, complete with swinging linen napkins and basslines you felt in your pants cuffs.

Songwriter and producer Timbaland was named Songwriter of the Year, marking his third win in the category. A video montage of Timbaland's 2007 work, heavy on the clips of collaborator/muse Justin Timberlake, preceded his award. Co-host Weems said that this was the first time Timbaland was not able to accept the award in person but for good reason as he was married Sunday night in Aruba.

The centerpiece of the evening and also the last category awarded was the ASCAP Golden Note Award. "Who wouldn't be excited to see all six members of New Edition together in the same room?" Austin asked the audience, standing room only by now, who responded with resounding cheers.

New Edition, siting front and center before the stage, watched as six artists/groups performed hits both by the group and their respective solo spinoffs. The tribute performances, some choreographed right down to the original steps, came across as heartfelt, often punctuated by "I love you New Edition!" and New Edition being hugged right at their table.

New Edition was first introduced by ASCAP CEO John LoFrumento. Next to speak before presenting the Golden Note award was Maurice Starr, a once-polarizing figure to the band's fanbase after a decades-old split followed by Starr's creation of New Kids on the Block.

Starr spoke of discovering New Edition as youths singing the Jackson Five's "ABC" and then booking them for a local talent show in Roxbury. Starr spoke of the men's talent and singularity in creating a new model predating and changing the 'boy band' genre as is now known. Starr corrected that contrary to some outside press reports, "I didn't create New Kids on the Block out of spite but out of respect. They are still my friends."

The video montage for New Edition and the solo projects of its members drew a mix of good-natured laughs and applause for a generation who can recall shag and Gumby haircuts, not to mention the various fashions from the '80s to the group's current suave polish.

New Edition's six members Ricky Bell, Ronnie DeVoe, Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown and Michael Bivins then took the stage, greeted by a standing ovation lasting minutes. Ricky Bell spoke first saying, "It was about twenty nine years ago that we stepped to this guy [choreographer and first manager] Mr. Brooke Payne, and we asked him to teach us choreography and manage us."

Ronnie DeVoe spoke second, adding "Twenty-five years of blood sweat and tears....You guys don't know half of what we've gone through as a group. We're definitely putting a movie together so you will understand some of the trials and tribulations but the best thing about this night is there's six guys standing here on this stage to receive it. There are so many that have come and gone, individuals like Rick James. I remember we used to just stand on the side of the stage, night after night, when we were on tour with him watching him do his thing and to know he's not here... for us to pay homageā€¦to know that the six guys of New Edition are still here tonight is such a blessing."

Lead singer Ralph Tresvant said, "It's really a shock to see ASCAP acknowledging us right now because you're the first guys that ever really acknowledged any of this work we put in." Thanking his bandmates by name he referred to them also as brothers, including "Maurice Starr and Brooke Payne- you guys are my life, man. I'm glad we were able to stick together, work out all of our differences and ups and downs. We're still here...When it gets down to nothing, God is up to something."

Bobby Brown, the resident wild card of the band and an audience favorite for his unpredictable charisma, was greeted by scattered shout-outs of "Bad Boy!" and 'B.B!" as he approached the microphone .

"Twenty years ago I was out of this group. Twenty years ago I didn't know who I was.' Brown said. "It was only in kicking me out of the group that made me think 'If I don't succeed, then I ain't gonna be shi*.' These brothers did the best thing for me to teach me a lesson. I don't think I've learned that lesson yet but I'm working on it!" he said to laughter.

"My life is on a straight path right now," said Brown. "I'm through one marriage and working on another one and this one is gonna work because I'm going to make it work. It takes fans, it takes people, it takes women, boys, girls and children to raise something like this. We're 25 years in it and we're young...well, I know I am! I'm the baby in the group! I don't think that the music industry would have been the same without New Edition and I don't mean that because I was apart of New Edition. I was a part of 5 years of New Edition, twenty of them I was a solo artist but I was a solo artist watching what New Edition was and I promise to you New Edition will never stop....This is only the beginning."