A Toast to Those Who Make the Whole World Sing

Posted May 7, 2010 at 4:26pm

Congress will get a chance to kick back and enjoy some classic American music as the Library of Congress on Tuesday welcomes some of the country’s most iconic songwriters to perform their hits and discuss their inspiration.

“We Write the Songs,” hosted by Librarian of Congress James Billington, recognizes a recent donation to the library by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

“It’s a great evening,” says songwriter Paul Williams, who is best known for hits such as “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “The Rainbow Connection.” Williams, who is president and chairman of ASCAP, describes the donations as “basically us bringing little pieces of paper with all of our bad rhymes [on them] trying to get to the ones that worked.”

This is the second annual songwriter showcase at the Library. The event began last year after ASCAP partnered with the LOC to donate the ASCAP Collection, a hodgepodge of writers’ notes including original sheet music, hand-written notes and drafts of lyrics.

“We made an agreement with [the LOC] to give them all of ASCAP’s archival materials, and we have a lot dating back to 1914 when ASCAP was formed,” Williams says.

Warning: Reading beyond this point will cause certain tunes to be stuck in your head for hours.

This year’s event includes performances by Tracy Chapman, who famously penned “Fast Car,” Dion DiMucci (“Runaround Sue”) and Bill Withers (“Lean on Me”).

“What better way to celebrate the partnership than to present some of our most important songwriters performing their own song so the audience could connect to the song they know and love with the people who wrote them?” says Karen Sherry, director of the ASCAP Foundation, a branch of the organization that works to nurture young talent.

Williams, who performed last year, will once again take to the mic on Tuesday. He says he looks forward to seeing Members of Congress at the performance.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is slated to introduce writer Wayland Holyfield (“Could I Have This Dance?”), while Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will present Alan Bergman (“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”). Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will give opening remarks at the event.

“Last year was my first year and I was introduced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and it was one of those moments where you’re like, ‘Well that doesn’t happen everyday,'” Williams says. He says he’ll probably sing “The Rainbow Connection,” which was famously performed by Kermit the Frog in “The Muppet Movie.”

“I’ll talk about where I met Kermit, how it was in a bar late one night,” Williams jokes.

The performances on Tuesday will be followed by visits to Congress on Wednesday. Members of ASCAP will sit down with various Members on the House and Senate Judiciary committees to thank them for their work over the years on legislation relating to royalties and other issues songwriters face daily. More than anything, Williams says, the writers plan to thank Congress for “taking care of business.”

“We’re going to track them down and tell our story,” Williams says. “Our heroes Patrick Leahy and Orrin Hatch are from opposite sides of the aisle, but they come together to take care of us.”