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2024 Gershwin Prize Salute to Elton John & Bernie Taupin: All the Performances Ranked

By Michael Apr 8, 2024

You don’t want to miss Elton John & Bernie Taupin: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, which will air in primetime on PBS stations nationwide on Monday (April 8). (Check local listings.)

The two-hour special was taped during a tribute concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. on March 20. Billboard had a (lucky) correspondent in the room, who filed this report.

The success of the show is a tribute to the quality and range of the songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, of course, and also to smart production choices by Ken Ehrlich, who executive produced and wrote the show. Ehrlich, who oversaw the annual Grammy telecast for 40 years, incorporated talk segments with both songwriters, as well as Elton’s long-time music director Davey Johnstone; past Gershwin Prize recipients Sir Paul McCartney (the only previous British honoree), Carole King, Stevie Wonder and Emilio & Gloria Estefan; and Robert Hilburn, the former Los Angeles Times pop music critic whose rave review of Elton’s 1970 show at the Troubadour in L.A. gave the singer a big boost.

Those talk segments provide much context and insight. In one, Elton said how much American music has always meant to him. “Thank you, America, for the music you’ve given us all over the world. It’s an incredible legacy that you have – all the wonderful blues, the jazz, classical, all the songs the Gershwin brothers [George and Ira] wrote. It’s just incredible. … I’m so proud to be British and to be here in America to receive this award, because all my heroes were American.”

Elton also put his music with Bernie in the context of the Great American Songbook. “We write songs that we hope will last. And our songs have lasted – and so have the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hammerstein, all those wonderful people. The Cole Porters of the world. They wrote classic songs, and once you write a classic that people love, it never goes away.”

Elton’s band backed the various artists, leading Elton to say “This is the first time in my life where I have sat in the audience and listened to my band. And I know they’re good, but they’re amazing!” He also paid the ultimate tribute to his partner. “He gives me the lyrics and then I write the song. Without the lyrics, I’d be working in any record store in the world.”

Elton John and Bernie Taupin: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song is a co-production of WETA Washington, D.C.; Ken Ehrlich Productions, Inc.; and the Library of Congress. It will be available via broadcast and streaming on PBS.org and the PBS App.

An end title card dedicated the show to Tony Bennett, the 2017 Gershwin Prize recipient, who died in July at 96. The show honoring Bennett and last year’s show honoring Joni Mitchell both received Primetime Emmy nods. This show also deserves Emmy consideration.

All but one of the 14 songs performed on the show appeared on Billboard’s 2022 ranking The 75 Best Elton John Songs: Staff List, which was keyed to the star’s 75th birthday that year. If you missed it, here it is. Read it before or after the show, but not during. You don’t want to miss a moment.

Here are all the performances on the show ranked from least to most memorable. (Three artists performed multiple songs. We listed their songs together.) No shade to the performers who aren’t ranked high: The competition for “best of the night” honors was fierce. And how can Elton not be No. 1 on his own tribute? We’ve all heard him sing his songs many times, so there was no element of surprise there like there was with the top three selections.

By Michael

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