Carole King still sees herself “first, last and always a songwriter,” she said as she accepted MusiCare’s 2013 Person of the Year honors last night at the Los Angeles Convention Center. But even after decades of hits written for herself and others, she was clearly moved by the night’s lineup of performers in her honor, including Lady Gaga, James Taylor, Steven Tyler, Pink, Will.I.Am and Alicia Keys.
Standing on the red carpet on her way into the gala, King told Rolling Stone, “It’s a big night for somebody who is a songwriter and only dreamed of having the greatest singers sing their songs, and here it is all together in one magical wonderful night.”
Minutes later, Aerosmith singer Steve Tyler noted King’s roots as a Brill Building songwriter, and told Rolling Stone, “I made out to ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ with my first girlfriend. They were songs that put a dot at the end of my childhood sentences. Look at the list of songs she’s done, and for so many people. She’s a wonder. Her music has made me cry, it’s made me laugh and I’m not the only one.”
Dressed in a floppy hat, with scarves tied to his mic stand, Tyler began the night’s performances in a duet of King’s “Hi-De-Ho” with LeAnn Rimes that was brassy and sultry. Soon after, Pink performed “So Far Away” accompanied by piano in an emotional reading that was stripped down and direct, the sides of her head shaved into a platinum Mohawk.
Lady Gaga appeared amid striking visuals to sing “You’ve Got a Friend,” perched on a round stage billowing with white fog, dressed all in white, with platinum bangs at a white grand piano. Her performance was raw and moving, going from aching and delicate to muscular and sharp.
“It is my absolute privilege to be honoring such an incredible woman, a true musical genius named Carole King,” Gaga said, adding that as a high school teen she would sometimes retreat to her room and “crank this song so high – and I really believed so much, Carole, that you were my friend. Thank you so much for the way you sing right to us.”
Alicia Keys called King “the most magnificent songwriter composer on earth” and performed an impassioned “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” first sitting at a piano, then standing, wailing and improvising through the song, which earned a roaring standing ovation.
“Going Back” was a duet between Jakob Dylan and Louise Goffin, King’s daughter, creating a warm mid-60s rock sound with Dylan on jangly electric guitar and Goffin on mandolin. When Train performed “I Feel the Earth Move,” singer Patrick Monahan said “I might need a little help singing this,” and walked over to King’s table as she stood to sing with him.
King had the first of many first Number One hits as a songwriter with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” in 1960, but the night’s performers returned again and again to 1971’s Tapestry, still one of the best selling albums ever. Gloria Estefan called it “the most impactful album on my life,” then sang the hit “It’s Too Late.”
Host Jimmy Kimmel wondered about the album cover and the four decades since its release, joking, “That cat on the Tapestry album has to be dead, right?”
In her acceptance speech, King thanked former songwriting partner and ex-husband Gerry Goffin, and credited frequent collaborator James Taylor with pushing her to the front of the stage. And she noted the night’s larger philanthropic purposes: The dinner, concert and charity auction is a major annual event during Grammy weekend to support MusiCares’ efforts in providing financial and medical support for musicians and others in need.
For all the eclectic versions of her songs performed last night, it was King herself who offered the most daring reinterpretation of her music, opening her short set by bringing two young Egyptian players to help create an evocative mix of Western and Arabic sounds for an unexpected and inspired “Home Again.”
“If only I was 27 instead of almost 72, we could take this on the road,” King said with a big smile.