American Music Honors: Jon Stewart hosts an event celebrating a vast tapestry of musical styles

Steven Van Zandt, Sam Moore, Darlene Love and Steve Earle were honored at the star-studded event in New Jersey

By Kenneth Womack

Contributing Writer

Published April 16, 2023 4:00PM (EDT)

Steven Van Zandt, Sam Moore, Darlene Love and Steve Earle at the American Music Honors at Monmouth University's West Long Branch, New Jersey, campus (JOHN CAVANAUGH)
Steven Van Zandt, Sam Moore, Darlene Love and Steve Earle at the American Music Honors at Monmouth University's West Long Branch, New Jersey, campus (JOHN CAVANAUGH)

Last night, Monmouth University's Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music unveiled the first edition of the American Music Honors, an annual awards gala expressly designed to pay tribute to the artists behind the nation's vast tapestry of musical styles and innovations

The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music was established in 2017 with the mission of preserving Springsteen's legacy and celebrating the history of American music and its diversity of artists and genres. Founded by Robert Santelli, the organization's executive director, the archives include a repository comprised of more than 35,000 items. Each year, scholars from across the globe visit Monmouth University to carry out research associated with Springsteen's life and work.

But Saturday evening marked the Center for American Music's turn to shine. With a spate of honorees that included Steven Van Zandt, Sam Moore, Darlene Love and Steve Earle, the star-studded event featured a host of show-stopping performances, while placing American music's creative heritage front and center. Hosted by comedian Jon Stewart, the event was the brainchild of Santelli, whose leadership has been behind some of the nation's most vaunted institutions, including the Grammy Museum, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Experience Music Project.

According to Santelli, "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. All of our inaugural honorees are worthy of acknowledgment and appreciation." Following Santelli's remarks, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy took to the stage, where he issued a proclamation naming September 23rd, Springsteen's birthday, as Bruce Springsteen Day.

Steve Earle, the event's first nominee, has enjoyed a Grammy award-winning career as an American singer-songwriter working in a host of musical styles ranging from rock and bluegrass to folk and the blues. Following a moving introduction from E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent, Earle joined the house band, the Disciples of Soul, for a rousing rendition of his foot-stomping hit "Copperhead Road."

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In the evening's most heartrending tribute, Springsteen provided a video introduction to Darlene Love's long and storied career, especially her early work as the lead vocalist for the Phil Spector-produced "He's a Rebel" and "She's Sure the Boy I Love." In her acceptance speech, Love spoke movingly about the perseverance that has made her long career possible, remarking that "nobody does it alone" and noting her personal and professional debts to Van Zandt, Springsteen, and others. Love brought the house down with her bravura performance of "River Deep Mountain High" with the Disciples of Soul.

Listen to Love's appearance on the Everything Fab Four podcast:

Introduced by Asbury Park legend Southside Johnny Lyon, Sam Moore was feted for his work as a member of the iconic soul music duo Sam and Dave. With Dave Prater, Moore cut his teeth in the gospel tradition before creating an innovative soulful sound that resulted in such hits as "You Don't Know Like I Know," "Hold On! I'm Comin'," "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby" and "Soul Man," among others. With the Disciples of Soul providing an appropriately funky accompaniment, Moore turned in a stirring performance of "I Thank You."

The event's honorees concluded with Van Zandt, who was fittingly introduced by Springsteen. During his video tribute, Springsteen made special note of the longstanding E Street Band guitarist's humanitarian efforts, especially his world-changing Artists United Against Apartheid effort and, most recently, his TeachRock initiative, which spearheads a national K-12 music curriculum explicitly designed to maintain student engagement and promote lifelong learning.

Listen to Van Zandt's appearance on the Everything Fab Four podcast:

After accepting the American Music Honors statuette, Van Zandt led the Disciples of Soul through a heart-pounding set that included renditions of such Springsteen classics as "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and "Hungry Heart," as well as "Soul Man," Sam and Dave's signature tune. With an unforgettable musical revue capping off its first foray, the American Music Honors kicked off the new musical tradition at Monmouth University's West Long Branch, New Jersey, campus in fine style.

By Kenneth Womack

Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin and the host of "Everything Fab Four," a podcast about the Beatles distributed by Salon. He is also the author of "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles," published in 2019 in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary, "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life" and the authorized biography "Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans" (November 2023).  Womack is Professor of English and Popular Music at Monmouth University.

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