A Lyrical Tribute at Songwriters Awards


By Masha Leon

Published July 04, 2003, issue of July 04, 2003.
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“Let the world know who writes the songs!” proclaimed Hal David, chairman and CEO of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, at the June 12 Induction Ceremony & Awards Presentation of the National Academy of Popular Music.

“Often the songwriters’ genius goes unrecognized by the public,” said Martin Bandier, chairman and CEO of EMI Music and recipient of the Patron of the Arts Award. “They create magic… and few people stop and think how it was created…. Artists come and go… but a great song lasts forever.”

After accepting the Towering Performance Award from Jerry Seinfeld, Tony Bennett lit up the Marriott Marquis ballroom with his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Barry Manilow presented music “champion” Clive Davis with the Hitmaker Award. Billy Joel presented the Johnny Mercer Award to Jimmy Webb, who wrote “Up, Up and Away.” Before joining inductees Brian May and Roger Taylor — of Queen fame — in “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” country star Wynonna Judd told the 1,200-strong black-tie crowd, “I can’t wait to go back to Nashville and say I was in a rock band for five minutes… and I’ve got the hair!” The duo then raised the evening’s temperature with the Queen anthem “We Will Rock You.”

Alicia Keys presented the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award to Patti LaBelle. Kicking her shoes off, a spectacularly gowned LaBelle delivered a socko rendition of Yip Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow.” Born Edgar Yipsel Harburg, “Yip” — one of the “Class of 1903” songwriters posthumously honored that evening — wrote the song score for MGM’s 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” and with Jay Garney wrote “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”

At the reception, I mentioned to folksinger and Songwriters Hall of Fame curator Oscar Brand that in the 1980s I had interviewed Sammy Cahn for the Forward and that Cahn had written a song for me.

“The Forverts!” Brand exclaimed. “Did you know that Woody Guthrie married Margie Greenblatt Mazia, whose mother, a Yiddish poet, was published in the Forverts?” It was news to me. “Woody called her ‘My little Graham cracker’ because he met Margie when she danced with the Martha Graham Dance Co. Woody was from Oklahoma, a prototypical WASP. Her parents were Orthodox and not too happy…. The best way to woo them was to sing or write a song. So Woody wrote one for Passover and one for Chanukah,” he said.

“But,” Brand continued, “it was not until Arlo [Guthrie]’s bar mitzvah — which I attended — that they were brought together.”

He added: “About eight years ago, at the Annual Jewish Arts Festival in Plainview [Long Island], when I introduced Arlo to the audience, I told them I had been at his bar mitzvah. Arlo then said, ‘What Oscar did not seem to know then was that my rabbi was an unknown Meir Kahane.’”

* * *

A tired and happy Meir Fenigstein, founder of the Israel Film Festival, welcomed the guests at the festival’s June 19 opening night gala at Cinema One Theater at which Ilan Heitner’s film “Wisdom of the Pretzel” was showcased. Based on Heitner’s semi-autobiographical novel, the film stars a sizzling Osnat Hakim in the female lead and offers a roller-coaster of promiscuity, a dose of male bonding that would have appalled Israel’s founders, before segueing into an unexpectedly poignant finale.

Master of ceremonies Richard Brown — a professor of humanities at NYU and, since 1969, host of NYU’s TV series “Movies 101” — introduced the Israeli filmmakers, award presenters and recipients to the gala crowd.

“I grew up in Utah… a funny place,” said Matthew Modine, who presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Milos Forman. “I was raised in the Mormon tradition…. Imagine, coming to New York and finding out that Jesus was a Jew!”

Apologizing for his Czech accent, Forman recalled the first film he made in Prague. “I checked every theater to see how many people were in there…. A friend congratulated me and said, ‘I saw the film.’ ‘Aha!’ I said to him, ‘Then it was you I saw in the theater.’”

“Films can be powerful,” Forman said, recalling his favorites, “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “The Great Dictator,” “Miracle in Milan.” But, he said, “you leave the theater… and the movie leaves you.”

It seemed odd to hear this from the director of “Hair,” “Amadeus” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” unforgettable films that continue to resonate.

* * *

Following a June 24 cocktail reception at Shallots NY, members of the AMIT Young Leadership Circle hurried to the Clearview Cinema for a screening of Keren Margalit’s gem “All I’ve Got.” A cross between “Outer Limits” and “The Twilight Zone,” it tells of a 75-year-old woman who as a 23-year-old survived a car crash and at her death must choose between spending eternity with her “still” young 23-year-old lover who died in the crash or with the husband with whom she spent 50 years. It’s a nail biter.

Guests at this fundraiser were greeted by Meir Fenigstein and the Circle’s event chair, Shelley Cohen. Since 1925 AMIT has served children and teens throughout Israel. AMIT currently provides care and technological education to 13,000 of Israel’s “discarded” children rescued from dysfunctional homes, drugs, abuse and prostitution.

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