April 15 marked a momentous occasion for the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music as they held their first ever inaugural American Music Honors, celebrating four remarkable musicians at a sold-out event at Pollack Theatre.
The star-studded night featured the honorees consisting of country/blues/rock singer-songwriter Steve Earle, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee and iconic pop/soul singer Darlene Love, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and legendary soul duo Sam & Dave member Sam Moore, and E Street Band member Stevie Van Zandt.
The evening was hosted by the comedic and entertaining Jon Stewart, an executive producer of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as well as host and executive producer of the EMMY-nominated show The Problem with Jon Stewart. Besides providing comedic relief and hosting the event, Stewart’s job consisted of making light of the unfortunate circumstances: two of the most important people of the night, Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa, tested positive for Covid-19 that morning following his show in Newark.
Although The Boss was unable to attend, Governor Phil Murphy presented the audience with a special surprise by officially declaring September 23 as Bruce Springsteen Day. Murphy’s remarks, which included a little snag at property taxes, explained that the “Glory Days” singer “has always been here for the great state of New Jersey.”
Robert Santelli, the Executive Director for the Archives said, “American Music Honors aims to celebrate those artists who have demonstrated artistic excellence, creative integrity, and a longstanding commitment to the value of music in our national consciousness.” Santelli added that this night was not just for honoring these four musicians but “to preserve and celebrate music, one of our most culturally valuable resources.”
Steve Earle was presented by E Street Band bass player Garry Tallent who, in a touching speech, said Earle is “an American Music Legend” and, as someone who can’t be labeled as one thing or another, “part rock, part country, all Steve Earle.”
After accepting his award, Earle proudly admired it and said, “I’ve won a Grammy, I threw the opening pitch at Yankee Stadium, but this…this really means a lot to me.” His speech was followed by a standing-ovation performance with the iconic house band, Disciples of Soul.
The next honoree, the remarkable Darlene Love, was presented her award by Bruce Springsteen via video. His speech explained Love’s life through music as a member of Phil Spector’s The Blossoms while also singing for some of The Chrystal’s biggest hits without acknowledgment for her voice. Her music career came to an unfortunate and final halt in the 70s before Van Zandt and Springsteen begged her to return to the music scene and move to New York where she “would be much appreciated for her work.” After Springsteen’s comments, Love heartfully said, “I was planning on laughing for the first few minutes, but now I am trying not to cry.” She thanked the pair by saying, “You guys started my career all over again.” Love then blew the audience away with an incredible performance of Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.”
“Southside” Johnny Lyon of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes was the next presenter for Sam Moore of the soul duo Sam & Dave. While accepting his award, Moore gushed, “You didn’t have to love me, but you did…I thank you for that.” Before his performance, Moore got the audience excited and on their feet by saying, “You thought Easter was last Sunday…no sir, church is tonight!” Moore was then surprised by his grandkids and wife coming on stage for a touching embrace.
The final award was again presented by Springsteen to his fellow band member and “rock and roll partner in crime,” Stevie Van Zandt. Springsteen’s touching speech showed his love for his good friend by saying, “Now with Steve… rock and roll was an all or nothing,” and noted him as “a guy who does what he wants with nothing and figures out his problems later.” Not only a rocker but also an activist, Van Zandt formed Artists Against Apartheid to protest apartheid in South Africa. In terms of music, the guitarist started TeachRock, a company aimed at teaching students everything about music and relating it to the power of rock and roll. Van Zandt said, “I spent the last 20 years dedicating what I thought was an endangered species…rock and roll… There is no better common ground than music.” He then proceeded to shred on the guitar with the Disciples of Soul before bringing Southside Johnny and Earle for an impromptu performance of “It’s Been a Long Time.”
Just when the audience thought the night was over, Love was brought out for a crowd-pleasing rendition of “Hungry Heart,” followed by Moore joining in for Sam & Dave’s iconic “Soul Man.” Of course, everyone was on their feet because, as Southside Johnny said, “If Sam Moore tells you to do something, you do it.” “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” followed in classic Springsteen fashion, but the night closed out with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ “I Don’t Want to Go Home.”
The night was a proven success with a sold-out theater and standing ovation for the celebrated honorees. Fitting with the finishing song, they too showed their love for music and the Archives as you couldn’t kick them off the stage even if you wanted to.