Missy Elliott has become the first female rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Grammy, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Queen Latifah inducted Elliott with kind words as she paid homage to their long-lasting friendship.
British singer Cat Stevens was also inducted at the 50th annual Songwriters Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Former US first lady Michelle Obama took her turn to say how much of a Missy Elliott fan she is.
“Missy, I want to thank you for all of your trailblazing ways,” Obama said in a taped video that aired during the event.
“Thank you not for just sharing your gift with the world, but for being an advocate for so many people out there, especially young girls who are still figuring out how to make their voices heard.”
Near the end of her 10-minute speech, Elliott broke down after telling funny and deep stories about how her creative mind worked as a child.
“I am thankful,” she said, pausing for a few seconds.
“Every time I come up to a podium … even with all the work that I’ve done, I don’t know, and I’m assuming it’s just God, I don’t know why I am here,” she said with tears in her eyes as the audience erupted with cheers and applause.
“I want to say one thing to the writers, to the upcoming writers, ‘Do not give up’. We all go through writer’s block. Sometimes you just have to walk away from a record and come back to it. But don’t give up because I’m standing here. And this is big for hip-hop, too.”
Elliott is just the third rapper to enter into the Songwriters Hall, following Jay-Z and Jermaine Dupri’s inductions in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
While she has written her own hit songs — from Get Ur Freak On to Work It to Lose Control — Elliott has also lent her writing skills to others — specifically girl groups and pop and R&B soloists, including Aaliyah, Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Monica, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Mary J Blige, Ariana Grande, Destiny’s Child, Fantasia, Jazmine Sullivan, SWV, Total, 702, Mya, Tweet and others.
Stevens, who converted to Islam and now goes by Yusuf Islam, said as his life took several journeys, so did his songwriting.
“My first search was for wealth and success but then I was dragged underground after the first battle with fame and the demands of the music business. I was hospitalised with a thing called TB, but that was a great opening for me, a great chance, and that’s when my real journey started,” he said.
“And that journey was to do a search for meaning, so that kind of defined, I think, my main contribution to being a songwriter.”
Elliott and Stevens entered the 2019 class alongside heavyweights in the music industry, including country-folk icon John Prine.
“I love songwriting. I love to paint myself into a corner and have to write my way out of it,” said Prine, who performed onstage with Bonnie Raitt.
“And when I co-write I always try to pick out a really good restaurant, so if things ain’t happening in the first 30 minutes, just go: ‘Hey man, let’s go get some lunch.’”
Songwriters are eligible for induction after writing hit songs for at least 20 years. Other inductees were Jack Tempchin, who co-wrote songs for the Eagles and Glenn Frey’s solo albums; Dallas Austin, the songwriter behind radio hits for TLC, Monica, Pink, Boyz II Men and Madonna; and Tom T Hall, who Johnny Cash called his “all-time favourite songwriter”. Hall did not attend the 50th annual induction ceremony but taped an acceptance speech.
Sara Bareilles, who was honoured at last year’s ceremony, stole the show when she beautifully sang her hit Brave.
She was on piano while Jack Antonoff, the song’s co-writer, assisted on guitar. They gave Martin Bandier, who stepped down as CEO and chairman of Sony/ATV Music Publishing this year, the Visionary Leadership Award.
Pop singer Halsey performed and earned the Hal David Starlight Award, while Oscar winner Carole Bayer Sager — who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall in 1987 — received the Johnny Mercer Award and sang with Patti LaBelle onstage. The president and CEO of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Linda Moran, earned the Champion Award.
Justin Timberlake received the Contemporary Icon Award and closed the multi-hour event with a performance, singing New York, New York and then going into his own hits that he had a hand in writing, including My Love and Cry Me a River.