From left: ASCAP Foundation executive director Colleen McDonough, ASCAP Foundation Life in Music Award recipient Francisco J. Núñez and ASCAP Foundation Champion Award recipient Natalie Merchant (Courtesy of The ASCAP Foundation)
Natalie Merchant received The ASCAP Foundation Champion Award Wednesday night (Dec. 11) at the 2019 ASCAP Foundation Honors presentation at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, while The ASCAP Foundation Life in Music Award was bestowed upon composer and leading music educator Francisco J. Núñez.
The annual ceremony was filled with stellar performances by several Foundation award and scholarship recipients--including the two major award winners.
“This evening we celebrate the achievements of the people who represent our musical hopes and dreams for the future,” noted ASCAP Foundation president Paul Williams in the event program. “They are music creators and performers who are beginning their careers and already making an impact.”
Merchant, of course, has long been known not only for her music artistry but for her social activism. In presenting her award, Nora Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s daughter and president of Woody Guthrie Publications, listed numerous charitable and humanitarian endeavors and organizations supported by Merchant, such as Greenpeace, The Center for Constitutional Rights, and Doctors Without Borders, after which Merchant hailed the ASCAP Foundation Honors as a “beautiful multi-generational event,” and the Foundation itself as simply “wonderful.”
“I’m so excited about the music talent being encouraged by these awards,” said Merchant, adding that young people “couldn’t choose a better way to express your soul” than through music. She then thanked ASCAP for “my daughter’s swanky private school education--and what I’m wearing!” before strolling over to the piano to perform her 1995 hit “Wonder,” about a child born with a congenital disease, that inspired both the R.J. Palacio book of the same name and the 2017 film version starring Julia Roberts.
Núñez’s award was presented by singer-songwriter and ASCAP Foundation board member Jason Mraz, and accepting, Núñez recited the chorus from Mraz’s big hit “I’m Yours” before stating how music education “transforms and elevates” and leads to understanding and a better world.
With his emphasis on mentoring young music creators and using music to further equality and diversity among children in contemporary society, Núñez then conducted the Young People’s Chorus of New York City--a group he founded in 1988—in singing his “Crióme mi Madre.”
Other stellar performances included singer-songwriter and transgender activist Ryan Cassata, the Mariana & Paul Williams “Sunlight of the Spirit” Award honoree, who performed his popular song “Jupiter”; Morton Gould Young Composer Award winner Will Healy, who delivered his blues-inspired classical composition “Mannahatta”; Desmond Child Anthem Award recipient EmiSunshine, whose “Crimson Moon” was mesmerizing; Sammy Cahn Award honoree Anna Tivel, with a powerful rendition of her Americana tune “The Question”; and Clayton Bryant, this year’s recipient of the “Reach Out and Touch” Award in Honor of Nick Ashford, who performed his own original song “Wild Horses.”
Presenting Bryant’s award, Valerie Simpson noted how it honors her late husband and music partner Nick Ashford, then concisely summed up the significance of it and the other ASCAP Foundation awards: “It helps the next generation fall in love with music--which we did together—and it puts some moolah in their pockets when they need it the most!”