Celebrations of music and top-level advocacy for its future health were the twin goals achieved at Wednesday evening's 11th Annual GRAMMYs on the Hill Awards in Washington, D.C. A sold-out crowd at the Liaison Capitol Hill hotel feted the work of seven-time GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter/producer John Mayer, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Hialeah Gardens High School, a 2012 GRAMMY Signature Schools recipient located in Hialeah Gardens, Fla.
Noting the wild new environment for contemporary music, Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow opened by jokingly showing off some "antiques" he brought along for the night, a vinyl LP and a compact disc. In addition to congratulating the evening's honorees, Portnow underscored the importance of crediting music creators for their work on recordings, regardless of platform.
The stars were out in significant numbers, equally representing both politics and music. Emceed by NBC political correspondent Luke Russert, the event showcased the fruits of a musical collaboration between songwriter Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and noted country songwriter Monty Powell. "High Country," a country-style song celebrating the beauty of Hatch's beloved Utah that was penned for the occasion, was performed by Powell on an acoustic guitar with backing on piano by his wife, respected jazz/country artist Anna Wilson.
A staunch supporter of performers in the battle to preserve intellectual property rights for all creative artists, Berman's honor was presented by GRAMMY-winning producer and Recording Academy Chair Emeritus Jimmy Jam. In addition to playing the national anthem to begin the proceedings, Cheap Trick lead guitarist Rick Nielsen presented a grant award of $5,500 on behalf of the GRAMMY Foundation to Hialeah Gardens High School in acknowledgement of their outstanding commitment to music education.
In remarks just prior to Mayer taking the stage, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius noted his considerable work with service men and women returning home from the Middle East as well as support for music education initiatives. Sebelius cited Mayer's "ability to passionately connect with so many" as one of the many reasons for his excellence. The performer accepted his award and added a thoughtful note.
"While evolution is a process that fine tunes the past and prepares for the future, we should not just blindly accept change," said Mayer. "We have to adequately prepare to allow great artists to step forward."
An evening honoring Mayer would have been incomplete without a touch of the blues, and GRAMMY-winning legend Buddy Guy was happy to oblige. "My mother always told me to never wear out my welcome," Guy joked about the short set. He launched into a scintillating rendition of Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man." After inviting Mayer onstage to "get the folks out of their seats a bit," the honoree and blues master played a brief impromptu jam session to close out the evening.
(Marcus K. Dowling is the editor-in-chief of Brooklyn Bodega, as well as a writer for D.C. cultural megablog Brightest Young Things and the Pink Line Project. Alongside his writing pursuits, he is an account manager at Washington, D.C.-based Listen Vision Studios and WLVS Radio, a music podcaster for Scoutmob.com and co-founder of Vamos Promo, a public relations firm specializing in tropical bass music.)