Pop hits, R&B grooves and Broadway anthems thumped through the Coolidge Auditorium Wednesday night as the We Write the Songs concert burst back into life for the first time in four years, featuring songwriters such as Jermaine Dupri, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Madison Love and Matthew West.
You wanted to hear Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” by the songwriters who put it together? A song from Broadway’s Tony Award-winning “Dear Evan Hansen” by the duo that scored it? Mariah Carey’s monster hit “We Belong Together” presented by co-writer Dupri?
This was your night — with the occasional asterisk. Dupri cheerfully noted his vocals were best kept to demo tapes and studio sessions. “I don’t let people actually hear me sing my demos,” he told an amused audience. “I actually, like, destroy the demos after I do it and the artist hears it.” He let backup singer Nicki Richards handle the soaring vocals.
The 90-minute, invitation-only showcase is an annual event (save for the recent COVID-caused gap) by the Library and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Foundation. It demonstrates to an audience heavy with members of Congress and Capitol Hill staffers, often in danceable fashion, why the rights of creative artists have to be protected. The Library is the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, which registers creative works for legal protection. ASCAP is the nonprofit organization that represents the individual artists.
“I have hugged so many legislators in the last half minute, I feel like running for office,” Paul Williams, the Academy Award-winning songwriter and ASCAP president, told the crowd as he helped open the show with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “To us music creators, the Library is our Fort Knox. It’s the Fort Knox for our copyright.”
The show was composed of two-song sets by five artists: Dupri, Love, West, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Each was introduced by the congressional representative from their home district, which, in the above order, meant Georgia, California, Tennessee, New York and Virginia.
In between the hits were backstories about the songs and one-liners about the music business.
Pasek and Paul’s Broadway patter got laughs from the crowd by noting the wild spectrum of across-the-aisle groups that identified with their showstopper, “This is Me,” from “The Greatest Showman.”
“It was an LGBTQ anthem and also Trump played it at Camp David,” Pasek said.
Pop music’s Love, who has written (or co-written) songs for Pink, Ava Max, Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Addison Rae and Jason Derulo, thanked her mom for making her take chess lessons in high school, which gave her the framework for “Kings & Queens,” a 2020 hit she co-wrote for Max.
“It’s a super female-empowerment anthem,” she told the crowd. “Sometimes a song comes together day-of, but other times it takes months and months of chipping away to make it perfect, and that was the case with this one.”
Singer and songwriter West, who sings “songs of hope for people who are feeling hopeless” in a Christian tradition, brought his guitar and a sense of humor onstage.
“A lot of people who don’t know contemporary Christian music, they think that we don’t celebrate platinum (records),” he said. “They think we only give out gold, frankincense and myrrh records.”
Just a few minutes later, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis were up there, closing the show with the thumping “Miss You Much,” with backup singer Jenny Douglas-Foote knocking out the lead vocals.
The crowd rose by the third note, as if on cue. Dupri bopped just across aisle from Love. Child swayed two rows down. Everyone sang along.
It was that kind of crowd. That kind of night.
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