Perhaps in keeping with the choice of Jimmy Webb as the recipient of its lifetime achievement award, the National Academy of Songwriters' eighth-annual "Salute to the American Songwriter" at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on Friday had a distinctly retro quality.
More disturbingly, it was largely white and male, with Marie Cain and Judith Owen the only female performers, and Terry Steele the only African American.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday December 7, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Column 3 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Performers-- A review in Monday's Calendar erroneously stated that Terry Steele was the only African American performer at Friday's "Salute to the American Songwriter" concert. The African American quintet Coming of Age also performed.
Webb received his award with characteristically offbeat aplomb, and sang three of his lesser-known pieces, including the lovely "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress."
The featured spot was devoted to a Brill Building tribute with Jeff Barry and the team of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller singing such '50s and '60s hits as "Sugar, Sugar," "Leader of the Pack," "Yakety Yak" and "Hound Dog." Barry, sounding like a perennial 16-year-old, managed to communicate his enjoyment; Leiber & Stoller were erratic until their finest effort, "Is That All There Is?"
The first few acts delivered far more entertaining, diversified music. Cain was witty and on target with her satirical "The Chorus," and Hoyt Axton and his mother Mae Axton brought vigor and energy to his "Joy to the World" and her "Heartbreak Hotel."
Dave Frishberg's artfully crafted lyrics provided a reminder that songwriting should have creative as well as commercial goals, while Graham Nash's "Our House" and two new numbers stressed the importance of emotional honesty in the creative process.
Steele was the best of the contemporary artists, with Stephen Allen Davis (singing two interminable pieces), Owen, Delbert McClinton and David Pack filling the gaps in a program that never quite reached the level of the event's previous editions.