On Tuesday, January 28th, the Songwriters Hall of Fame (SHOF) returned to the LA Film School to honor this year’s Oscar nominated songwriters ahead of the February 9th ceremony.
The yearly event, produced by the SHOF and Ray Costa of Costa Communications, has seen the likes of Justin Timberlake, Common, and Bill Withers grace their stage. This year’s panelists were equally extraordinary, with legendary Oscar winning songwriter and Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Paul Williams hosting alongside film music journalist Jon Burlingame.
Making history at the event was eleven time Oscar nominated songwriter Diane Warren, who is the most nominated female in the history of the Oscars who has yet to clench Oscar gold. She’s nominated this year for the song, “I’m Standing With You” from 20th Century Studio’s Breakthrough.
“I was asked to see the film and this story was a real life miracle,” Warren shares. Although she was initially against actress Chrissy Metz singing, the This Is Us star won her over on the first verse.
“I wanted Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, or Pink,” Warren recalls. “I actually had to leave the studio and when I came back and heard what Chrissy recorded, I was blown away.”
Warren is very proud of the film’s adaptation of the true life events. “The scene where the doctors had given up on the boy and the mother just goes in and prays over his body to come back to life… it just hits you.”
The boy not only lived, but he’s completely normal as Warren pointed out to hearty laughter. “I met the kid last year, he’s completely normal like me, well I’m not normal, so not like me!”
Dual Academy Award nominee Cynthia Erivo went to tremendous lengths to appear at the event in support of Focus Features’ historical drama Harriet.
Erivo, already nominated for Best Actress, picked up a songwriting nomination for co-writing “Stand Up” with Joshuah B. Campbell. An original song wasn’t something on the director Kasi Lemmons’ mind, at least until Erivo mentioned it. “I felt like I could give something to a song for this film, because of the subject matter of Harriet,” Erivo shared. “I wanted to give my voice to her legacy.”
Despite a strong reputation for singing and performing, Erivo’s songwriting talent was widely unknown prior to her Oscar nomination. “I think the director [Lemmons] thought I was joking when I brought up the idea of honoring Harriet with a song,” she shared. “When Joshua and I got together, it felt very natural. We landed on the hum call and response which carried a gospel and R&B feeling.”
Before being whisked off for her flight, Erivo offered some insight on her Aretha Franklin series. “I’m singing everything live,” she shared to loud applause. “I’m actually flying out tonight and we’re shooting tomorrow morning.”
Two time Oscar winning songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez were also honored for their nominated song from Frozen 2, “Into the Unknown.” The married duo provided plenty of anecdotes and humor, with Anderson-Lopez breaking into song during several instances.
For Frozen 2, the songwriters were told they would be exploring the ideas of change and maturity in the darker-toned sequel. “If they hadn’t taken it in a new direction, I don’t think we would’ve wanted to do it,” Lopez says of the hit sequel.
Lopez and Anderson-Lopez work alongside the screenwriters, building the songs and script together in an often grueling process. “By the end of the writing, our goal is to have seven songs left standing,” Anderson-Lopez says.
Legendary lyricist Bernie Taupin, Oscar nominated along with Elton John for Rocketman’s “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” used his opening to highlight the work of fellow nominee Randy Newman, who could not attend the event.
“I miss Randy Newman not being here tonight,” Taupin said in his opening remarks. “And Good Old Boys is one of the greatest albums ever made.”
Newman is dual nominee this year for his Toy Story 4 song, “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” as well as his score for Netflix’s Marriage Story.
Williams was equally effusive in praising Newman, recalling that they both wrote songs for the rock band 3 Dog Night. “I wrote three songs for 3 Dog Night but my favorite is Randy’s ‘Momma Told Me Not to Come,’” Williams said.
Taupin revealed that a new song for the end credits wasn’t originally in the cards. As the movie changed, so did the ideas surrounding the music.
“It was really at the last moment, as Taron and Elton were talking about redoing an old song,” Taupin shares. Writing a song opened the door for a potential awards season run.
The move ends with the anthemic track, “I’m Still Standing.”
“The film ends on the idea of redemption and stepping into the future,” Taupin says. “My idea was to keep that redemptive theme, but take it down a notch with a Tom Waits flavor. Once I had that, it didn’t take me long to write the lyric.”
Elton didn’t follow Taupin’s Waits idea, quickly taking the song in a Motown direction. “Elton didn’t even call me back after I sent the lyrics,” Taupin recalls. “He just sent me the demo and the pacing was perfect, he made the right call.”
In retrospect, Taupin sees that going from “I’m Still Standing” to a reflective and slow song would have lost serious momentum. “Elton kicked it up a notch,” Taupin says. “That’s why he does why he does and why I do what I do.”
Taupin also gave a hearty thanks to Giles Martin [son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin] for recreating the John/Taupin songbook in the film.