Paul Willaims— singer, actor, writer of hits ranging from We’ve Only Just Begun and Evergreen to Rainbow Connection and, not least, president of ASCAP — will be the 2020 recipient of the Johnny Mercer Award at the 51st Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Dinner, taking place June 11 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York.
The Johnny Mercer Award is the highest honor bestowed by the Hall, “exclusively reserved for a songwriter or songwriting team who has already been inducted in a prior year, and whose body of work is of such high quality and impact, that it upholds the gold standard set by the legendary Johnny Mercer.” Mercer wrote many hits including Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses, Autumn Leaves, and Hooray for Hollywood, co-founded Capitol Records, and created the Hall of Fame.
Williams, whose songs have been recorded by artists ranging from Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra to David Bowie, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald and, of course, Kermit the Frog, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001.
“It feels so great,” Williams says of the honor. “There are a few lyricists who are simply beyond the pale in terms of their elegance and expertise, and the pinnacles are Lorenz Hart, Johnny Burke and of course Johnny Mercer.” He also gave effusive credit to his collaborators Roger Nichols and Kenny Ascher, “they’ve been such a huge part of my success,” he says, adding with a laugh, “and if I don’t mention them, Kermit will show up and say, ‘You’re an embarrassment!’”
The Rainbow Connection, from the classic The Muppet Movie, co-written with Ascher, is one of two Williams’ songs that grace the American Film Institute’s List of Top Movie Songs of All Time; the second, Evergreen, co-written with Barbra Streisand, is from the award-winning Barbra Streisand/ Kris Kristofferson remake of A Star Is Born. Additional song scores include the cult favorites Phantom of the Paradise, Ishtar, and The Muppet Christmas Carol. He also wrote lyrics for Flying Dreams, co-composed with Jerry Goldsmith and performed by Williams for The Secret of N.I.M.H, and collaborated on Guillermo del Toro’s stage musical adaptation of Pan’s Labyrinth.
Williams wrote pop hits for many artists: Three Dog Night’s An Old Fashioned Love Song and Out in the Country, Helen Reddy’s You and Me Against the World, David Bowie’s Fill Your Heart and the Carpenters’ We’ve Only Just Begun and Rainy Days and Mondays.
New inductees at this year’s event include Mariah Carey, Eurythmics (Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart), the Isley Brothers, Steve Miller, the Neptunes (Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams), Rick Nowels and William “Mickey” Stevenson.
Tickets for the Songwriters Hall of Fame are available, but they’ll likely set you back a house payment or two at about $2,000 each.