American Music Honors celebrates musical greats with a rollicking rock ‘n’ roll showcase to remember

Jackson Browne, Dion DiMucci, John Mellencamp & Mavis Staples were honored at the star-studded event in New Jersey

By Kenneth Womack

Contributing Writer

Published April 25, 2024 3:29PM (EDT)

Bruce Springsteen, Mavis Staples, Darlene Love, Dion DiMucci, John Mellencamp and Jackson Browne at the second annual American Music Honors ceremony, Monmouth University, April 24, 2024. (Photo by John Cavanaugh)
Bruce Springsteen, Mavis Staples, Darlene Love, Dion DiMucci, John Mellencamp and Jackson Browne at the second annual American Music Honors ceremony, Monmouth University, April 24, 2024. (Photo by John Cavanaugh)

The second edition of the American Music Honors convened on Wednesday evening at Monmouth University in dazzling style. Presented by the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music, the annual event honors American artists who have achieved excellence as musicians, while also championing creative and social integrity. With the likes of Jackson Browne, Dion DiMucci, John Mellencamp and Mavis Staples waiting in the wings, the capacity crowd at the Jersey Shore university’s Pollak Theatre enjoyed a rollicking rock ‘n’ roll showcase of the highest caliber.

Hosted by retired journalist and news anchor Brian Williams, the event is the brainchild of visionary music industry veteran Bob Santelli, the Executive Director of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music, 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. 

Having grown up in nearby Middletown, New Jersey, Williams extolled Monmouth County as ground zero for some of the 20th century’s finest musicians and composers. “This great institution, this great archive, the Center for American Music,” he remarked, “could only exist because Bruce and his pals made us the center of American music.”

The festivities began with Darlene Love’s exuberant induction of Mavis Staples, the pioneering R&B and gospel singer and civil rights activist. The Chicago native first came to renown with the Staples Singers, later embarking on a celebrated solo career. Staples joined the Disciples of Soul onstage for a boisterous rendition of the chart-topping soul number “If You’re Ready (Come Go with Me).” 

Up next was DiMucci, whose star-studded career was honored by Stevie Van Zandt. The American singer-songwriter enjoyed fame with Dion and the Belmonts when he was still in his teens prior to launching a multi-decade career as a solo artist. With the Disciples of Soul as his accompaniment, he turned in a sizzling take on “King of the New York Streets,” from his 1985 LP "Yo Frankie."

Rock journalist and producer Jon Landau inducted Jackson Browne, the American singer-songwriter who has crafted some of popular music’s most introspective compositions, including “These Days,” “Doctor My Eyes” and “The Pretender.” In his acceptance speech, Browne struck a somber note, observing that “with all that’s happening in the world, with all that’s going wrong with our society, with all that we continue to find out about human nature, it can be good to pull back from the panoramic view of our decline and narrow our focus and sing of love and present the truth of a single life,” adding that “it’s one of the only things that makes any sense, and it’s one of the things that unites us.”

Following Browne’s spirited rendition of his 1977 hit “Running on Empty,” Springsteen took the stage to induct Mellencamp into the American Music Honors. “Seymour, Indiana, is the birthplace of our next honoree, and I have been there, and I can tell you it is a small town,” Springsteen joked. “His eye for the details of working-class life in the belly of the country has been flawless and unforgiving. He’s captured and remained true to an unflinching vision of a country at war with itself, a country caught between its hard realities and better angels.” Armed only with his acoustic guitar, Mellencamp took the stage and performed “Jack and Diane,” his chart-topping 1982 composition, in a rousing duet with the audience.

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With the inductions concluded, Dion performed his signature hit “The Wanderer,” while Love brought the house down with “River Deep Mountain High.” As the encores continued, Browne turned in a moving rendition of “Take It Easy,” the song that he penned with the late Glenn Frey and that launched the Eagles on a path towards superstardom. With the audience on its feet, Springsteen took the stage and performed “Small Town” with Mellencamp and the Disciples of Soul, followed by “Glory Days” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” with fellow E Streeter Van Zandt. True to the spirit of the evening and the central tenets of the American Music Honors, the event concluded with the inductees and attendant musicians singing Staples’ gospel anthem, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

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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American Music Honors Brief Dion Dimucci Jackson Browne John Mellencamp Mavis Staples Music