By JENNIFER GAVIN
“Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head …” Where were you the first time you heard that song? Perhaps at the movies—back in the day when theaters held 500 seats and the screens were gigantic.
“Groovin’, on a Sunday afternoon …” An amusement park, 1967, on a ride called the Zugspitze that went forward, really fast, and then backward, even faster.
“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, Know when to walk away—and know when to run …” Where haven’t you heard that song? On the radio, at the mall, in the car?
Many hits that have been played, sung and loved to the point of becoming standards were performed at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium on May 5 in celebration of the Library’s acceptance of the papers of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), offered through its ASCAP Foundation.
And they were performed by the people who wrote them, whose rights to profit from their genius have been protected by ASCAP since its founding in 1914.
Before a packed house studded with members of Congress—several of whom introduced the songwriter/performers—tunesmiths Paul Williams (currently ASCAP’s president and chairman), Alan Bergman, Felix Cavaliere, Hal David, Johnny Mandel, Don Schlitz, Ashford & Simpson, Jimmy Webb, and Monica Mancini (performing her late father Henry Mancini’s music) wowed their listeners.
Williams, who emceed the show and performed his songs “We’ve Only Just Begun” (made famous by The
Carpenters) and “The Rainbow Connection” (sung by Kermit the Frog in “The Muppet Movie”), kept a steady stream of wisecracks coming even as he shared the podium with such dignitaries as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
Sen. Barbara Boxer and several other members and senators. Former Ohio Sen. John Glenn, a family friend of the Mancinis for decades, also was in the audience.
The diminutive Williams, not known for performing his own songs over the years, remarked, “I’ve often said that if I was the only one singing them, I might be hot-walking horses right now.”
Felix Cavaliere, a founding member of the band The Young Rascals, performed his songs “Groovin’” and “People Got to Be Free,” backed by a stellar combo including Chris Caswell on piano and keyboard, John Ferraro on drums, John Lee Sanders on keyboards and saxophone and Lee Sklar on bass. Cavaliere, who joined them in accompanying himself on piano, noted that he wrote “People Got to be Free” when he was supporting the presidential candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy, who was later assassinated while campaigning.
Songwriter Jim Webb, accompanying himself on the piano, sang “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “The Wichita Lineman” (both made famous by vocalist Glen Campbell). Webb said he was once accosted after a show by a man who insisted the travel described in the song wasn’t possible: “There’s no way you could get to Albuquerque by the time she gets to work!”
Composer Johnny Mandel joined the combo at the piano as they performed his “Theme from M.A.S.H.” Vocalist Karrin Allyson joined him onstage to perform his hit (sung by many, many artists) “The Shadow of Your Smile.”
Songwriter Don Schlitz, accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, delivered his song “The Gambler” in a relatively quiet, very personal fashion. The song was made famous by vocalist Kenny Rogers. The audience couldn’t help joining in on the choruses, and Schlitz joked, “I think I can get us work.” Schlitz also performed his hit “When You Say Nothing at All,” made famous by Allison Krauss. “It’s an honor to be here,” he said, simply, as he left the stage.
Hal David performed both of his songs, “What Do You Get When You Fall in Love” (performed by Dionne Warwick and, more recently, co-author Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello) and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (popularized by vocalist B.J. Thomas). A standing ovation greeted him when he walked onto the Coolidge stage.
Monica Mancini, the daughter of Henry Mancini and a performer in her own right, offered “The Days of Wine and Roses,” penned for the film of the same name, and “Moon River,” which her father wrote for the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Mancini told her listeners the latter film’s studio bosses were ready to cut the song, but star Audrey Hepburn protested and saved it.
Alan Bergman, with the combo, performed his songs “The Windmills of Your Mind” (from the film “The Thomas Crown Affair”) and “The Way We Were,” made famous by Barbra Streisand in the film of the same name.
The evening closed with husband/wife songwriting and performing duo Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson reminiscing about their early days writing for Motown and building their own performing careers. In a rousing finale, they brought down the house with “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
The ASCAP Collection is already arriving at the Library and will be added to on an continuing basis, according to Music Division Chief Susan H. Vita, who accepted a logbook of recorded dues paid by early members and cash expenditures dating back to the founding of ASCAP in 1914 by such luminaries as John Philip Sousa, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin.
“Our shared interest is preserving the product of creativity, talent and craft, as well as the history and biography of its creators,” Vita said. “The ASCAP archives also preserve a history of innovation—literally, the business of show and music—and the visionary and entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes so much of America’s history.”
Jennifer Gavin is the senior public affairs specialist in the Library’s Office of Communications.