The scene is familiar: You jump in your car, turn on the radio, and cruise through the city with the windows rolled down, wind blowing through your hair, singing your favorite song at the top of your lungs with absolute abandon and glee. Maybe it’s a song you’ve loved for years, or maybe it’s the latest single from an artist you’ve just recently come to know. Regardless, it’s “your jam,” and you sing every note, every lyric, every ad lib like your life depends on it. The voice coming through your speakers delivering the song belongs to someone whose name everybody knows; or, maybe you’re more attuned to those yet unearthed jewels the rest of the world isn’t hip to, but you and your crew have been riding with since their first mixtape. Vintage or emerging, everything about the song–the groove, the beat, the hook, that vamp at the very end you can only truly hear if you listen closely–moves your heart and gives you life!
Well, that song did not simply appear out of thin air. Before it became the perfectly produced piece of ear candy you enjoy, an idea sprang up–possibly from a conversation, a real-life experience, a quizzical observation. And someone–a very special someone, a songwriter–took that idea and brought it to life. In many cases, the song’s performer is also its primary writer, or at least one of its writers. It isn’t uncommon, though, for a song’s creator to be a lesser known artist working behind the scenes to craft the tunes that comprise the soundtracks of our lives. Songwriters often liken their creative process to giving birth, referring to themselves as vessels for this marvelous and life-changing creation. And whether they write in solitude or collaborate with other writers and producers, there seems to always be this one magic moment, this tipping point where the song’s skeleton suddenly develops flesh, and heart, warmth and memory.
Making its debut at the 2012 Soul Train Awards, the Ashford and Simpson Songwriter’s Award was created to pay tribute to the masterful lyricists, composers, and producers whose midas touch animates the music dominating the charts and the airwaves. Named for two of the greatest and most prolific songwriters of all time, the effervescent Valerie Simpson and dynamic Nick Ashford (whom we lost in 2011), last year’s inaugural award was presented to the team responsible for John Legend’s “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” (John Stephens, Allen Arthur, Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges, Keith Justice, Miguel Pimentel, and Clayton Reilly). This year’s nominees represent the cream of the crop, with heavy-hitting tunes that made more than a little noise.
The 2013 Ashford & Simpson Songwriter’s Award nods go to:
•J. Cole, “Crooked Smile” (Jermaine Cole, Meleni Smith)
•Alicia Keys & Maxwell, “The Fire We Make” (Alicia Keys, Andrew Wansel, Warren Felder, and Gary Clark, Jr.)
•Tamar Braxton, “Love and War” (Tamar Braxton, LaShawn Daniels, Mareba Riddick)
•Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu, “Q.U.E.E.N.” (Janelle Monae Robinson, Nathaniel Irvin III, Charles Joseph II, Kellis Parker, Jr., Roman Gian, Arthur Irvin)
With such an impressive array of creators positioned to walk away with a win, it is nearly impossible to decide which song and songwriters should claim the victory this year! But all bets will be settled at the 2013 Soul Train Awards ceremony this Thursday, November 8 in Las Vegas. As the big day approaches, this year’s Ashford and Simpson Songwriter’s Award nominees–and all of the 2013 Soul Train Awards nominees–are no doubt looking forward to hearing the words, “And the winner is…”
We’ll have to see which songwriters will be crowned the heirs apparent to the magnificent artists whose names the grace the award for which they have been nominated, when the 2013 Soul Train Awards air on BET and Centric on December 1. Until then, take a moment to revisit this year’s nominated songs, and remember:
Last night the DJ may have saved your life on the dance floor, but thank god for the songwriters who made it possible for him to drop the needle on the record.