By Brian Ives
Carole King has won multiple GRAMMYs, and she's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Songwriters Hall of Fame. But if there's an official award for humility, surely she would be up for it.
"Tonight is really not about me," King said, when taking the stage during the a splashy tribute show in L.A Friday (Jan. 24), honoring her as the MusiCares 2014 Person of the Year. "It's about MusiCares. It's about the people who care."
Taking place as it usually does just before the GRAMMY Awards, the annual MusiCares Person of the Year event has in the past honored such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Gloria Estefan. This year's King tribute featured a stellar lineup of major artists from across multiple genres, all of whom honored the legendary singer-songwriter by performing covers of some of her best-known songs. Artists included Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, P!nk, Lady Gaga, Sara Bareilles, Zac Brown, Miranda Lambert and Alicia Keys.
Show host Jimmy Kimmel poked fun at the posh crowd and venue -- the Los Angeles Convention Center -- joking that "MusiCares asked, 'What venue seems least like the Troubadour?,'" a reference to the L.A. club where King often played in the early '70s. Throughout the night, Kimmel mocked the audience about their phones ("If I catch you texting during the performances I'm going to smash those f***ing phones over your heads!") and using them to capture video ("…so you can put it on YouTube and never watch it. Because that's what live music is all about.")
As is often typical during all-star events like this, overall the results were uneven. However, there were plenty of powerful performances that helped turn this one-of-a-kind evening into a standout event.
One of the few relatively obscure songs of the night, "Hi De Ho"-- a 1970 hit for Blood, Sweat and Tears -- featured the unusual pairing of Tyler and LeAnn Rimes.
P!nk's took a stripped-down approach to "So Far Away," accompanied by just a piano player and Reminding us all that she is among contemporary popular music's greatest singers.
Lady Gaga, wearing all white, also chose a stripped-down approach, accompanying herself on piano on "You've Got A Friend." This subdued performance was the opposite of the splash she'd made earlier in the evening on the red carpet, when (predictably) her very presence made photographers nearly lose their minds.
Four of the stars of the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom -- Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton and Judith Hill -- then took on King's gospel number, "Way Over Yonder," from Tapestry. The quartet of vocalists sounded as if they had been singing together for years, though in fact, some of them hadn't met before promotion for the film began. Let's hope they work together more in the future.
Jesse and Joy are a brother/sister duo from Mexico who have won four Latin GRAMMYs. Joy thanked King for her songwriting, before she and Jesse performed a medley of "Where You Lead, I Will Follow" and "Corazon." Hopefully some of the music industry folks in the audience will find a way to market this dynamic act to a U.S. audience.
The pairing of Kacey Musgraves and Miguel was an inspired one. They took on "Crying In The Rain," one of King's songs from her days as a Brill Building staff writer, which turned into a hit for the Everly Brothers in 1962. The song doubled as a tribute to the late Phil Everly, who passed away earlier this month. And it made them the second unlikely male/female duo to cover the Everlys songbook in the last few months. Could they have a full album in them as well?
Alicia Keys took on "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman," and while it didn't quite hit Aretha-like heights, it did remind the crowd how Keys won over the industry (and millions of fans) a little over a decade ago: her singing, her piano playing, but also the undeniable joy of her performances. That joy spread throughout the audience, earning her a standing ovation. After her performance, Kimmel exclaimed, "Holy s***, right? I know we're all rich and jaded, but we're pretty lucky to be here!"
"Jakob came up with that one," Goffin explained to Radio.com. "It was a really good call, my father [King's ex-husband Gerry Goffin] wrote the lyrics, it's a really fun song."
The country quartet of Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert, Amy Grant and Jennifer Nettles came next. They didn't sing together, each instead took her own song in a medley: McBride sang "Been To Canaan"; Grant had a blast with the Herman's Hermits hit "I'm Into Something Good"; Lambert took on the Bobby Vee hit "It Might As Well Rain Until September"; and Nettles took it home with a song that had been a '60s smash for the Chiffons, "One Fine Day."
Before the show, McBride described King to Radio.com as "the first woman songwriter to take the world by storm. It was never about ego, it was always about the music. And sharing it. And that's another thing about her music: it's 'shared.' She gave her songs to other recording artists. And also, she was a mom, and still she was able to do was she was passionate about."
The speeches of Neil Portnow, NARAS president and also president/CEO of the MusiCares Foundation, are a regular part of every GRAMMY ceremony, and they are often very business-oriented. Last night, though, we saw a different side of Portnow, as he appeared toting along his original copy of King's Tapestry, which he'd bought at a record store when it first came out. Geeking out in public, Portnow asked King to sign it. When she came to the podium she said, "First things first!" and autographed the now very-eBay-worthy LP, before going into her humble and touching speech.
"I've always been a songwriter first, I never dreamed I'd be a performing artist," King said. This was right before she took the stage with a stunning performance. She played "Home Again," accompanied by two Egyptian musicians, one of whom she'd met as her student escort when she received an Honoroary Doctor of Music award last year at Berklee, where he's a student. "If I was 27 instead of 72, I'd take this on the road!" she exclaimed. She may be a septuagenarian, but she looked and sounded at least 20 years younger.
King was then joined by James Taylor for "Sweet Seasons," "Hey Girl" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." After that, she got the audience back to their feet for "Jazzman" before inviting the other performers on stage for "I Feel The Earth Move" (Sara Bareilles was at her side less than two seconds later; she'd performed earlier as part of a supergroup with Jason Mraz and Zac Brown).
And with that, the show was over. It's true that King is, as she said, 72 and not 27, but here's hoping she keeps performing: she still loves it, she still sounds wonderful, and new generations should have the opportunity to see this living legend.
MusiCares is a charity arm of the GRAMMYs, helping musicians in times of need. Watch the 56th GRAMMY Awards Sunday, Jan. 26 at 8pm ET on CBS.
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