Since its founding in 1969, the Songwriters Hall of Fame has been celebrating the great songwriters and composers of our time. In 2010, it found a physical home at Downtown Los Angeles' GRAMMY Museum.
Now, the GRAMMY Museum is adding to that legacy with a special expanded exhibit, which dives deep into the history of songwriting and recorded music in the United States — as well as the Songwriters Hall of Fame and its inductees' role in it. Whether you're a songwriter or musician who loves the creative process, a history nerd, or simply a music lover, this exhibit is for you.
When you enter The Power Of Song, you'll hear the voices of legendary Songwriter Hall of Fame inductees and GRAMMY winners — including Nile Rodgers, Carole King, Diane Warren, Smokey Robinson and Jimmy Jam — discussing their creative process and some of the biggest songs they've written. Take a seat on the couch to absorb all their wisdom in the deeply informative and inspiring original short film.
Turn to the right, and you'll find a timeline across the entire wall, explaining the origins and key points around songwriting and recorded music in the U.S. On the other wall, pop on the headphones provided to enjoy a video of memorable Hall of Fame ceremony performances. One interactive video interface near the entrance allows you to hear "song highlights," and another allows you to explore the entire Songwriters Hall of Fame database.
The exhibit is filled with a treasure trove of handwritten song lyrics from Taylor Swift, Cyndi Lauper, Tom Petty and many more, as well as iconic artifacts, including Daft Punk's helmets, a classy Nile Rodgers GRAMMY look, and guitars from Bill Withers, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and Toby Keith.
Below, take a look at five things we learned from The Power Of Song: A Songwriters Hall Of Fame Exhibit, which will be at the GRAMMY Museum from April 26 through Sept. 4.
Daft Punk Rerecorded "Get Lucky" To Fit Nile Rodgers' Funky Guitar
Legendary funk pioneer and superproducer Nile Rodgers is the current Chairman of the SHOF and has an active presence at the exhibit. One case features the disco-esque lime green Dior tuxedo Rodgers wore to the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, along with the shiny metallic helmets of French dance duo Daft Punk, who collaborated with Rodgers on their GRAMMY-winning 2013 album, Random Access Memories.
Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk and Rodgers had forged a friendship and been wanting to collab for years prior to 2013's Record Of The Year-winning smash "Get Lucky." When they finally connected and Bangalter and de Homem-Christo played the CHIC founder the demo for "Get Lucky," he asked to hear it again with everything muted except the drum track, so he could create the perfect guitar lick for it.
Bangalter and de Homem-Christo decided to essentially re-record the whole song to fit Rodgers' guitar, which joyously drives the track — and carried it to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, Daft Punk's first Top 5 hit.
Photo: Rebecca Sapp
Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis Set Up Their Studio The "Wrong" Way Because Of Prince
In the exhibit film, Jimmy Jam tells several stories about working with — and learning from — Prince. He recalls how he and Terry Lewis watched Prince work and record everything "in the red," so they set up their Minneapolis studio to follow his lead. A sound engineer told them it was too loud, but that ended up being the sound that artists like Janet Jackson and Usher came to them for. It was a "happy mistake," as Jam put it, that helped their legendary careers as a powerhouse production duo take off.
Prince's dogmatic, tireless work ethic also rubbed off on the powerhouse pair. One rehearsal, the Purple One kept pressing Jam to do more, which resulted in him playing two instruments, singing and hitting the choreography from behind his keyboard. "He saw that I could do more than I thought I could; he saw me better than I saw myself," he reflected.
"God Bless America" Composer Irving Berlin Didn't Read Music
In his 50 year-career, Irving Berlin wrote over 1000 songs, many of which defined American popular music for the better part of the 20th century. Along with penning "God Bless America," "White Christmas," "Puttin' on the Ritz," and "There's No Business Like Show Business" (among many other classics), he wrote 17 full Broadway musical scores and contributed songs to six more plays.
Berlin also wrote scores for early Hollywood musicals starring the likes of Ginger Rodgers, Fred Astaire, Marilyn Monroe, and Bing Crosby. He made a lasting, indelible mark on music, theater, film and American culture writ large.
Rather astonishingly, the widely celebrated American Tin Pan Alley-era composer was self-taught and didn't read sheet music. His family immigrated to New York from Imperial Russia when he was 5 years old, and when he was just 13, his father died, so he busked on the streets and worked as a singing waiter to help his family out.
In 1907, at 19, he had his first song published, and just four years later penned his first international hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band." Berlin had a natural musicality and played music by ear in the key of F-sharp, with the help of his trusted upright transposing piano, a rare instrument that had a mechanism allowing him to shift into different keys. His "trick piano," as he called it, where many of his unforgettable songs first came to life, is on display at the exhibit.
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Smokey Robinson Didn't Expect "My Girl" To Become A Timeless Hit
Smokey Robinson was an important part of Motown's hit-making factory as a singer, songwriter and producer. In the exhibit film, he discusses "My Girl," one of his classic tunes, which he wrote and produced for the Temptations in 1965.
"I had no idea it would become what it would become," he said.
He says that people often ask him why he didn't record the unforgettable song with his group the Miracles instead of "giving it away" to the Temptations, but he never regretted his decision. Instead, he's honored to have created music that stands the test of time and means so much to so many people.
Robinson joked that the Temptations' then-lead singer David Ruffin's gruff voice scared girls into going out with him. Really, he loved Ruffin's voice, and thought he'd sound great singing a sweet love song like "My Girl." Safe to say he was right.
After World War II, Pop Music Changed Forever
Prior to World War II, American music operated as a singular mainstream market, and New York's Tin Pan Alley songwriters competed to make the next pop or Broadway hit. In a post-World War II America, especially when the early Baby Boomer generation became teenagers and young adults in the '60s and '70s, tastes changed and new styles of pop and pop songwriting emerged. As rock shook up popular culture, Tin Pan Alley gave way to a new era of young songwriters, many who worked out of just two buildings in midtown Manhattan, 1619 Broadway (the Brill Building) and 1650 Broadway.
In this richly creative and collaborative environment, powerhouse songwriting duos began to emerge and reshape pop music, challenging and balancing each other — and creating a ton of hits in the process. The hit-making duos of this diversified pop era included Burt Bacharach and Hal David (Dionne Warrick's "That's What Friends Are For"), Carole King and Gerry Goffin (Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion"), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'") and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me," both in collaboration with Phil Spector). In fact, there are far too many classics penned by these four prolific songwriter duos to list here.
While there are still songwriters that pen big hit after hit for pop stars (Max Martin is still at it, as is his protege Oscar Görres), the dynamics in the industry have continued to shift with singers taking on more creative power themselves. Today's pop stars — including Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift — have found success co-writing with their own trusted teams of songwriters and producers. But as this new exhibit shows, it doesn't matter who is behind the pen — the power of song is mighty.
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