Gershwin Prize: Joni and Garth to honor Elton and Bernie

Mar. 16—So the Rocketman is about to get another major honor.

Wait! I'm not referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, given the nickname of Rocketman by former President Donald J. Trump, in regard to the leader of the isolated nation's proclivity to test-fire missiles of various types.

That Rocketman's supposedly been busy in North Korea this week, driving a tank during a mock battle.

While North Korean reports claimed he drove the tank himself, I have my doubts, although I guess the tank crew could have let him take the wheel for a few seconds.

I'm now referring to the original Rocketman, Sir Elton John, of music and songwriting fame.

Elton, along with lyricist Bernie Taupin, will be honored as a songwriting team with the 2024 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. They're set to receive the honor during an all-star Washington salute on March 20.

An A-list of performers has already been secured for the award show, including two previous Gershwin Prize winners.

They include the 2023 winner, Joni Mitchell, along with Oklahoma's own Garth Brooks.

Other performers lined up for the tribute to Elton and Taupin include Brandi Carlile, Annie Lennox, Metallica, Charlie Puth, Maren Morris and Billy Porter, who will emcee the event.

Mitchell is continuing with her remarkable comeback from a 2015 brain aneurism, that left her temporarily unable to walk and talk.

Her comeback began with surprise performance at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival along with Carlile and other friends.

It continued when Mitchell performed in 2023 on the show where she herself was honored with the Gershwin Prize.

Both Mitchell's Newport Folk Festival performance and her performance at the 2023 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song Ceremony included her rendition of the Gershwin's classic "Summertime."

Now, I can hardly wait to see what song she will perform in tribute to Elton and Taupin when they pick up their Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in less than a week.

Don't bother trying to snag tickets for the event, since it's by invitation only — although I guess the most optimistic among us can check our mailboxes over the next few days.

It won't be possible for everyday music fans to attend the event in-person, since many seats will be filled by politicians, as past shows have shown.

Still, it will be be possible to watch a telecast of the Gershwin Award program, since it's set to air on most PBS television stations at 7 p.m. Central Time on Monday, April 8.

Elton John is so identified as a songwriter of his many hit songs, it's easy to forget that most of those lyrics came from Bernie Taupin.

From "Rocketman" to "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," from "Crocodile Rock" to "Bennie and the Jets" and most of Elton's other super hits, Taupin wrote the words which Elton sang.

Taupin wrote not only the original lyrics to "Candle in the Wind," a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, he also wrote lyrics for the reworked version, penned as tribute to Princess Diana, which became the biggest-selling single of all time.

When Elton and Taupin pick up the award, it will mark only the third time the prize has been awarded to a songwriting team.

Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David received the Gershwin Award in 2012, and Emilio and Gloria Estefan received it in 2019.

Elton has already been honored with a slew of awards, making him one of the rare EGOT recipients for winning all four of the major entertainment awards, including an Emmy (for a music special), multiple Grammy Awards, an Oscar for Best Song at the Academy Awards, and the Tony Award from Broadway.

That doesn't necessarily mean that Taupin has shared in all of those awards though. When Elton won the 1994 Academy Award for "Can't You Feel the Love Tonight" from the Walt Disney movie "The Lion King," he shared the honor with a different lyricist, Tony Rice.

Indeed, the Elton John and Tony Rice juggernaut proved so musically successful, that they had three of the total five songs nominated for Best Song at the 1994 Academy Awards ceremony.

In addition to "Can't You Feel the Love Tonight," two more songs written by the team of Elton and Rice were also nominated: "Circle of Life" and "Hukuna Matata" — putting them in the unique position of competing against themselves.

Other contenders for Best Song at the 1994 Academy Awards were "Make Up Your Mind" by Randy Newman, from "The Paper" and "Look What Love Has Done," credited to multiple songwriters from "Junior."

Any concerns by Elton and Rice that they may have split the vote among their three nominated songs from "The Lion King" were allayed when "Can't You Feel the Love Tonight" proved to be the night's big winner.

Here's how the Library of Congress describes the Gershwin Prize.

"The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song is the nation's highest award for influence, impact and achievement in the field of popular song.

"It was established in 2007 to recognize and honor the artists whose creative works, both printed and recorded, are collected, preserved, made accessible, and valued by the nation's library. It acknowledges the preeminent place of popular song in modern society and its vital role in expressing and deepening the personal and shared values of our time."

A 21st Century honor, the Gershwin Prize already has an impressive list of honorees, including:

—Joni Mitchell, 2023.

—Lionel Richie, 2022.

—Garth Brooks, 2020.

—Emilio and Gloria Estefan, 2019.

—Tony Bennett, 2017.

—Smokey Robinson, 2016.

—Willie Nelson, 2015.

—Billy Joel, 2014.

—Carole King, 2013.

—Burt Bacharach and Hal David, 2012.

—Paul McCartney, 2010.

—Stevie Wonder, 2009.

—Paul Simon, 2007.

When looking over those who've been honored with the award, I'm struck by a couple of major omissions.

Where's Bob Dylan? He's regarded by many as America's greatest living songwriter, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature for his poetic and searing lyrics. How can he have not yet been awarded the Gershwin Award for Popular Song?

And what about Brian Wilson, composer of many of Beach Boys timeless classics as well as his own solo albums. His Beach Boys classics include "Pet Sounds," usually shortlisted among the greatest albums of all time.

He even recorded an entire album titled "Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin" with his interpretation of songs written by George and Ira Gershwin, a 2010 album released on Walt Disney Records.

That seem's fitting, since Wilson said the melody of his 1963 classic song""Surfer Girl" is based upon "When You Wish Upon a Star" from the 1940 Disney animated classic "Pinocchio."

So come on, Library of Congress. Let's give Brian and Bob their long overdue due!

One more thing regarding Bernie Taupin.

I've recently come to admire him for living out a longtime dream — moving to America, operating a working ranch and even hosting rodeo events!

Who knew the dream of that British lad, considered one of the great songwriters ever, had been to move to the American West?

I've also pondered something else.

When Queen Elizabeth II honored Elton by knighting him in 1998, Bernie Taupin did not share in the honor.

I considered it a little unfair, since Taupin wrote most of the song lyrics that Elton is known for singing.

Although Taupin has not been knighted, he was included in Queen Elizabeth II's January 2022 list of honorees, when she made him a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Although he's now a commander, but still not a knight, I have to think that Taupin is nevertheless happy living out his American dream.

Why be a knight, when you can be a cowboy?