It’s one of the best-kept secret gatherings in a city that thrives on high-caliber secret gatherings, but this one, according to Representative Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, remains her favorite concert and congressional event ever.
Once a year, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, better known as ASCAP, celebrates the people who write the songs later made into megahits by celebrities. And the Library of Congress, custodian of ASCAP Archives and home to the U.S. Copyright Office, throws open the doors of the spectacular Jefferson Building on warm spring evenings to host congressional members, celebrities both local and international and a few lucky Library employees for “We Write the Songs,” a showcase of ASCAP members.
This year’s stellar lineup included R&B superstars Brian McKnight and Monica, up-and-coming YouTube sensation Priscilla Renea, MoZella, who co-wrote Miley Cyrus’ hit “Wrecking Ball,” country music legend Brett James, Randy Goodrum, author of Ann Murray’s hit ballad “You Needed Me,” veteran songwriter and industry mogul Desmond Child and classical composer Jennifer Higdon.
Monica, whom most people have seen blossom from a teen star to a mature young woman now married to basketball star Shannon Brown and a mother of three children, was one of the early members of the Atlanta music movement that also spawned rappers such as Ludacris, who happens to be her cousin.
She commented on her start as a songwriter, saying, “It all started in my bedroom as a little girl writing poetry, and that poetry became song lyrics. It’s about what you are going through and what you feel.” Then she treated the audience to songs from her latest album rather than pull from her bag of hits including “The Boy is Mine” and the personal anthem for so many, “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Them Days).”
Brian McKnight, on the other hand, treated the full house to two of his oldies-but-goodies, “Miss You,” and the obvious audience favorite, “Back at One,” on which he ceded the singing of the song to the audience while he accompanied on keyboards.
Young singer/songwriter Priscilla Renea got her start on her own YouTube Channel, singing songs in her bedroom. The native of Vero Beach, Florida, is one of the rare African-American artists who perform and write country western music primarily. She and country music superstar and multiple award winner Brett James took to the stage to perform the song they co-wrote for Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad.”
Renea, who seems more mature than her actual 27 years, made sure to educate the audience, saying “We all know that the roots of country western music are in the blues and gospel. And while I love the Lord with all my heart, sometimes I have to get a little ratchet too,” before going into her hip-hop, gospel melody, “Oceans,” on which she implored the audience to “listen closely to the lyrics!”
Renea has written for singers like Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Demi Lovato and Madonna.
MoZella, neé Maureen Ann McDonald, hailing from a suburb of Detroit, proved that blue-eyed-soul is alive and well, performing her version of the song she co-wrote for Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball,” saying that “This song came from a really bad breakup. It has to be something real to you.” And with the rawness and hurt of a freshly broken heart, MoZella gave the song an entirely different nuance because the lyrics belonged to her.
The jam-packed show was closed by the inimitable Desmond Child, author of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer” and Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and powerhouse behind the creation of the Latin Grammys. Child performed both songs, which brought back many a memory and set the house on fire.
ASCAP President Paul Williams, himself a multi-hit singer and songwriter, having penned Carpenters classics “Close to You” and “Rainy Days and Mondays,” as well as his own hit, “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” continues to steward the organization in which he is so deeply invested.
“We’re asking policymakers to stand with songwriters at a time when our future livelihoods and the future of American music are both in jeopardy. Streaming has vastly changed music listening habits, but licensing laws haven’t kept up with the way people consume music today,” Williams commented emotionally. “ASCAP is on the front lines fighting for meaningful music licensing reform to ensure songwriters can continue writing the next great song, but we can’t do it alone. We are asking legislators to recognize that songwriters deserve laws which enable them to be paid fairly for the use of their music.”
The ASCAP Foundation, founded in 1978, also supports opportunities, recognition and cash awards to emerging composers and makes sure that children of all ages have access to music and music education in schools across the nation.