By Melinda Newman
One of Carole King's biggest hits, "You've Got A Friend," proved to be the unofficial theme at the 2014 MusiCares Person of the Year gala in her honor as music pal after music pal paid tribute to the GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter on Jan. 24 in Los Angeles. Money raised from the event, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will benefit MusiCares' emergency financial assistance and addiction recovery programs.
A few performances into the evening, GRAMMY winner Lady Gaga, clad in a flowing white gown and playing a matching white grand piano on a round rotating stage, called King "a true musical genius," before launching into a full-bodied, stirring version of the aforementioned pop classic, which proved to be the night's emotional high point.
"When I was in grade school, high school, I would sometimes have really tough nights," Gaga said. "I didn't want to face the world. I used to close all the doors … and I would crank this song so high and I really believed so much, Carole, that you were my friend."
Also accompanying herself at the piano, GRAMMY winner Alicia Keys performed an exuberant, sensual version of "A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like)" that recalled Aretha Franklin's ultimate reading of the tune. Keys even had King singing along and swaying in her seat.
One-off pairings provided some of the night's most memorable moments: Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and LeAnn Rimes kicked off the evening with a bluesy, swaggering version of "Hi-De-Ho"; and Zac Brown, Sara Bareilles, Jason Mraz, and pop/rock group Raining Jane performed a stripped-down, harmony-filled version of "Beautiful." Four of the background singers highlighted in the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom — Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton, and Judith Hill — got to take the spotlight during a gospel-inflected performance of "Way Over Yonder." GRAMMY winner Miguel and current Best New Artist nominee Kacey Musgraves, both of whom were dressed in matching shades of red, sang a poignant "Crying In The Rain."
"My dream was always, and still is, to hear great performers perform my songs," King said, as she accepted her award from President/CEO of The Recording Academy and MusiCares Neil Portnow, who brought his original vinyl copy of King's 1971 GRAMMY Hall Of Fame-inducted masterpiece, Tapestry, for her to sign. "It does not get any better than this, folks," King continued. "Nothing will ever take away the memory of this night together with you."
James Taylor, King's friend of more than 40 years, who earlier in the night performed a warm, wistful take on "Up On The Roof," joined King for a buoyant "Sweet Seasons" and a dreamy "Hey Girl," before accompanying King on a tender rendition of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." Other highlights included saxophonist Tom Scott teaming with King on "Jazzman"; Gloria Estefan's faithful version of "It's Too Late"; and Pink's moving performance of "So Far Away." Earlier, on the red carpet, songwriter Paul Williams and Miguel told me that the latter was their favorite King song.
Fittingly, King closed out her gala with a rousing performance of "I Feel The Earth Move," which brought a number of the evening's performers and her friends back to the stage, including Bareilles, Taylor, Scott, and Pat Monahan. As the final notes of the song played, I think we all left the evening believing that Carole King is our friend too.