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BMI ICON Awards Honor Three of Rock & Roll’s Founding Fathers
By Rob Patterson
"Monumental" is an apt description of the 50th Annual BMI Pop Awards, held May 14, 2002 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles. The gala ceremony not only marked the golden anniversary of the Pop Awards, but also witnessed the inaugural presentation of the BMI ICON Awards. Instituted to recognize the "unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers" of its recipients, the first ICON Awards were given to three founding fathers of rock & roll: Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Little Richard. If rock music had its own Mount Rushmore, the faces of these three men would be found there.
Chuck Berry all but created the blueprint for rock & roll. Not only did he develop some of the music's most lasting trademark guitar licks, Berry also wrote some of its greatest and most influential songs. Berry compositions such as "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene," "Memphis," "Rock and Roll Music," "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Sweet Little Sixteen" - all BMI certified for more than a million airplay performances - featured his crafty wordplay and witty themes, as well as melodies that have echoed through the songs of countless performers up to today.
Bo Diddley, born Ellas Otha Bates McDaniels, set the world on its ear with what he called the "freight train sound" of his guitar with his first Chess Records single in 1955, "Bo Diddley"/"I'm A Man." Such other classics as "Who Do You Love," "Love Is Strange," "Mona" and "Road Runner" stand as some of the most visceral examples of rock & roll ever created.
Where Berry and Diddley established the primacy of the guitar in rock music, it was Little Richard who helped bring the piano into the genre with just as much instrumental excitement. Born Richard Wayne Penniman, the flamboyant singer and wild showman set the world on its ear with "Tutti Frutti," and followed it up with a string of classics such as "Long Tall Sally," "Lucille," "Jenny, Jenny" and many more.
At the Pop Awards ceremony, BMI President & CEO Frances W. Preston led the tribute to these musical giants and presented the silver bowl ICON Awards. To then pay the most fitting tribute to "the men who put the soul in rock & roll," musical director Steve Jordan and an all-star band backed up Jonny Lang, Ivan Neville, Mavis Staples and George Thorogood as they recreated the historical music these musical icons gave to the world.
As creators of the rock & roll sound, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Little Richard were the ideal recipients for the first set of ICON Awards, and offer proof of how integral BMI writers were to the musical revolution of rock's birth in the 1950s.