ASCAP’s highest honor, The Founders Award, went to John Mellencamp for his exceptional contributions to music. Past recipients include Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Carly Simon, Kiss’s Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, James Taylor, Neil Young, and Paul McCartney. Talk show host Tavis Smiley, who presented the award, gave a moving introduction about Mellencamp’s “Authority Song” being the anthem that he and fellow students at Indiana University-- in Mellencamp's hometown of Bloomington -- adopted as they protested the death of a black student named Denver Smith, who was killed by white officers after they shot him six times in the back.
In a passionate speech, Mellencamp talked about “growing up in public with my songwriting. It was a good thing for me back then, in the early ‘70s, that there was a thing called artist development, when artists could find themselves and their voice,” he said. “I think I made five or six albums before I sold five or six albums. Lucky for me I came along at that time. Now, today, there is no artist development and I’m not sure I’d want to become a songwriter today."
Mellencamp called for the industry to come together to stop free music on the Internet before more damage is done. “If not, then the quality of songwriting and the quality of music and the quality of the future of young songwriters is going to diminish down to nothing important and it’s just going to be no artist development and our business will shrink to “do you remember when.'" He then performed “Longest Days” from his 2008 album, Life, Death, Love and Freedom.