NEW YORK — Stevie Wonder gave an emotional speech that silenced the crowd, Garth Brooks was misty eyed and Billy Joel was classic when he performed "New York State of Mind."
The ASCAP Centennial Awards on Monday night honored the musical icons — including Joan Baez and Stephen Sondheim — at a gala in New York City.
"It is an amazing world when you think about writing songs and talking about things when people say, 'How can you write about that and you can't see them?' But the reality is seeing is feeling them; feeling them is in the spirit," Wonder, 64, told the crowd at the Waldorf Astoria.
"You hear (about) pictures about how someone looks and you write songs like 'Isn't She Lovely' — a song I wrote about my first child, Aisha," he continued. "You write songs like 'If It's Magic' because you say, 'What is the most magical thing in the world?' And the most magical thing I see in the world is love."
Wonder closed the night, singing such staples as "Superstition." Grammy-winning R&B singer India.Arie honored the legend with a medley of songs including "Blame It on the Sun" and "I Just Called to Say I Love You." She said she failed a Greek art class in college because she spent too much time writing down Wonder lyrics.
Motown founder Berry Gordy also paid tribute to Wonder. Instead of saying positive things about the icon — because he said he has done it repeatedly at other events — he told the crowd some of Wonder's flaws. He said the piano player was a "lousy driver" and that his "golf game sucks." He also said Wonder was consistently late, explaining that his seminal 1976 album, "Songs in the Key of Life," came two years behind schedule.
He later said the album was the "key in Motown's life."
Wonder was just one of the musicians to be honored Monday. Sting stunned the audience with a performance of Joel's "Big Man on Mulberry Street" — ending with a high note that even left Joel impressed. Trisha Yearwood, wearing a gorgeous white dress, sang Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Came."
"I know the father. I know the friend. I know the partner. I know the best friend. I am very proud of Garth," she said before Brooks walked onstage in all black, including a cowboy hat. "He is a good guy."
Brooks, who was teary-eyed like his wife, kissed Yearwood onstage and performed a new song called "I Am A Song" with his guitar.
Sondheim, one of the biggest names in musical theater who has won Tony Awards, Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and an Academy Award, didn't attend because he was ill. He received a sweet tribute from Bernadette Peters, who sang "Children Will Listen" from "Into the Woods." Emmylou Harris carried the same energy when she sang in honor of Baez.
"She became an ambassador for freedom," said Harris, who sang "Diamond and Rust."
"There will only ever be one Joan Baez."