Billy Joel accepted the first-ever ASCAP Centennial Award with a promise.
"I want to reassure you I do not have a terminal disease," he said. "It's been an amazing year for me . . . I'm overwhelmed."
Sting paid tribute to Joel with a jazzy version of "Big Man on Mulberry Street" with help from trumpeter Chris Botti, followed by Joel delivering a lovely version of "New York State of Mind."
Joel, Joan Baez, Garth Brooks, Stephen Sondheim and Stevie Wonder all received ASCAP Centennial Awards at The Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan Monday night, in honor of the performance rights organization's 100-year anniversary.
Paul Williams, president and chairman of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, said the awards were "a once-in-a-lifetime honor that would not be conferred again for another century."
Brooks took the opportunity to perform "I Am a Song" in public for the first time, after declaring, "I'm very proud tonight to call myself a songwriter." His wife, Trisha Yearwood, presented him with the honor, following her performance of "If Tomorrow Never Comes."
Berry Gordy Jr. presented Wonder with his award, following a medley of his songs from India.Arie. "Even before I wanted to be a singer, I wanted to be a songwriter," Wonder said. "Let us continue to write, continue to encourage and inspire. Without us writing, the world will lose its magic."
Emmylou Harris paid tribute to Baez, while Bernadette Peters honored Sondheim, who was unable to attend because of illness.
Proceeds from the gala will benefit The ASCAP Foundation.
"Music is maybe our most-used commodity," said Jimmy Webb, the "Wichita Lineman" singer-songwriter and ASCAP board member from Oyster Bay. "You get married to it. You get buried to it. You make love to it. You use it throughout your life . . . It should be cherished."