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ASCAP's Rhythm & Soul Awards: Ne-Yo, Alicia Keys, Berry Gordy and more pay tribute to Michael Jackson

June 27, 2009 |  2:57 pm


It was a night meant to honor the top songwriters and publishers of 2008 -- and it did. Winners shuffled to the stage Friday at ASCAP’s 22nd annual Rhythm & Soul Music Awards, posing for photos as they clutched onto their trophy. But it was also the night after Michael Jackson’s death, and the ASCAP ceremony took on the feel of a tribute, with Alicia Keys, Ne-Yo, Berry Gordy and more paying their respects to the fallen pop icon.

The event began with a moment of silence in honor of the King of Pop. A short montage immediately followed, highlighting the gloved one’s illustrious career -- from his days crooning hits such as “I’ll Be There” as part of the Jackson 5 to the night he exposed the world to his slick -- and often imitated, but never duplicated -- Moonwalk. The brief tribute was capped with a performance of Jackson’s ballad “Lady in My Life” by R&B singer-songwriter Ne-Yo, who ended the song with “We love you, Michael.”

But the Jackson appreciation didn’t end there. Artists such as gospel singer James Fortune and the GS Boys dedicated their performances to the pop tour de force, and other’s took time to expand on Jackson’s legacy. When she accepted ASCAP’s golden note award, 12-time Grammy Award winner Keys thanked Michael for his adventurous spirit.

Said Keys, “This man really broke all of the rules. He broke all the rules.There were no rules with him. Nobody could tell him what he could and could not do. How long his videos could or could not be.Or how the song structure should be.Or how many records he could or couldn’t sell. 

"He went and did from his heart as a genuine and good, blessed artist," Keys continued. "He broke all the rules and all the records. I think he is someone that obviously inspired us all to hopefully break the rules because we have to break the rules to break the records."

Before presenting the songwriter of the year award, record producer Timbaland sounded somber as he addressed the crowd:  “I’ve kind of been down for the last day. You know, I had an opportunity to work with Michael coming up, before the tour, and it’s been wild. The same thing happened to me when I was supposed to work with Biggie Smalls before he passed. It’s kind of a sad day … but a good day because his music lives on.”

And as Gordy took the stage to present his “best friend” Smokey Robinson with ASCAP’s rhythm and soul heritage award, the room fell silent, eager to hear what the Motown founder had to say about the pop icon he watched blossom. Mostly looking down, he nurtured each word.

“I stand here today still in a state of shock from the news of his death," Gordy said. "At home last night, I was looking at some of my old pictures of him, from his early rehearsals to ones with him and my son on the baseball field as we played our weekly Gordy-Jackson baseball games. For the world, Michael’s legacy will always be his music and his artistry. 

"But for me, it will be so much more," Gordy continued. "The memories of watching him grow from a mere 9-year-old kid with boundless determination and talent to become, perhaps, the greatest entertainer of all time. It is a bittersweet moment for all of us; even as we celebrate Motown’s 50th year, we have to say goodbye to yet another vital member of our family.”

As Robinson accepted his award, he acknowledged his sadness over the passing of Jackson, but added that he was happy to receive the award -- given to members who've had a profound impact on the legacy of rhythm and soul music -- because Michael would be happy for him too.

“I miss him so much. My heart is heavy, of course, because of Michael, but I know that Michael’s happy that I’m getting this award so I can be happy about this.”

-- Yvonne Villarreal

Photo: Alicia Keys. Credit: Getty Images

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Michael Jackson, 1958-2009
Photos: Michael Jackson, 1958-2009

Fans grieve worldwide
Photos: Fans grieve worldwide


Video: Celebrating Michael Jackson's legacy


Interactive map: See significant sites in the life and death of Michael Jackson, including Neverland Ranch and his boyhood home in Gary, Indiana.