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The importance of music education was celebrated as Melissa Etheridge, Trey Songz, Joshua Bell, Les Miserables creators Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer, Claude–Michel Schönberg, and Ashford & Simpson were honored at the New York Chapter Recording Academy Honors.
The event — a benefit raising money for the chapter’s ongoing advocacy and educational programs — was attended by Island Def Jam Music Group President Steve Bartels, media entrepreneur Kevin Liles, IMG Founder Charles Hamlen, Les Miserables stars Samantha Barks and Aaron Tveit, American Idol band leader Ray Chew, Grammy winner Michael Bolton and Recording Academy President Neil Portnow, who hammered home the importance of music in the schools.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, honoree Bell, a classically trained violinist who began playing at the age of four, extolled the virtues of early exposure to the arts.
“In music, the earlier to start, the better,” he said. “It’s very important to me to make sure that music is in the schools right at the beginning of education. Music and math and language, they should all be learned from the beginning. Unfortunately, music is the first thing that gets cut from schools when there are budget cuts because it is not always recognized as being important. The organization that is putting this [event] on — the sentiment behind what they are doing is they do a lot for outreach to young people and they are honoring us for the same kind of work.”
The evening boasted several memorable performances. Joan Osborne and Sugarland’s Kristian Bush teamed up for a sparkling duet on Etheridge’s “Sleep While I Drive,” and were later joined by the Grammy Award winner for an electrified “Bring Me Some Water.”
Speaking of his time as an opening act for Etheridge when he was in Billy Pilgrim, Bush thanked the 52-year old singer for taking him under his wing.
“I learned how to play arenas with a guitar,” he said. “I can finally play like a girl.”
Etheridge said she was honored to be recognized by her “peers.”
“This is the top of the top,” she said. “These are the people taking care of this industry. I am honored to be looked at and thought of in this way.”
Bell was joined by Frankie Moreno for a dramatic classical approach on the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” Barks, who portrayed Eponine in the big-screen version of Les Mis, delighted with a powerful and heartbreaking re-creation of her character’s biggest moment, the ballad “On My Own.”
Barks admitted that she had a case of nerves prior to her performance, as she was doing it with the creators right in the room. Not to mention the excitement surrounding the show’s return to the Imperial Theatre on Broadway in 2014.
“It feels exciting, but there is so much pressure because we’re celebrating their work so I don’t want to mess up. I want to do it justice. I feel so proud because that music has changed my life as it’s changed many people’s lives,” said the actress, who is set to take on the role of Velma in Chicago at The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in July. “That song means so much to me. I performed it eight days a week for a year and yet every time it feels like I am singing it for the first time. It’s so beautifully written.”
While accepting his award, Boublil elicited big laughs by thanking Britain’s Got Talent alum Susan Boyle in his speech.
“I would like to thank Susan Boyle for giving us a Billboard No. 1 hit without knowing what she was doing,” he said, alluding to Boyle’s cover of the musical’s “I Dreamed A Dream.”
Pianist Peter Cincotti honored the late Phil Ramone, discussing his memories of the famed producer and performing an original composition, “Rocket 88,” as a dedication.
“I met him when I was 17 and I saw him up until a month before he passed away,” Cincotti said. “We were quite close. He was a rare breed. It was an honor to know him.”
Songz, who at 28 was the youngest honoree, shared the stage with Ne-Yo for a duet of Songz “Can’t Be Friends.”
“It’s one of those rare songs on the radio you hear and say, ‘Damn, I wish that were mine,’ ” said Ne-Yo, who called the track his favorite by Songz.
“It feels amazing to be so young and be honored. I have five albums out. I play all the time, but I would make music if I never got paid for it, if nobody ever listened to it,” said Songz, who is working on his sixth album and is set to star on the big screen in the film Baggage Claim. “To be acknowledged by such an honorable academy is a blessing.”
Simpson said she was thrilled to receive the award, happily declaring, “I get paid for this, y’all!”
“It says to me that the body of work that Nick Ashford and I have created is a living legacy that will go on and on and on and it makes my heart feel good,” Simpson told THR.
Simpson provided a fitting conclusion to the show with a medley of the songwriting duo’s biggest hits: “I’m Every Woman,” “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” and “’Aint No Mountain High Enough” alongside Bolton, who was on hand to present Simpson with the award.
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