How It’s New York: The 2012 Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award celebration took place at the Manhattan Club above Rosie O’Grady’s, a convivial Times Square fixture for almost 40 years, and a short walk from the birthplace of Eugene O’Neill.
On Monday, October 15, 2012, in the middle of the one of the year’s great celebrations, the Eugene O’Neill awards ceremony, 93-year-old folksinger, songwriter, and fighter for civil rights, peace, and the environment, Pete Seeger, stood strumming his enduring banjo before a hushed audience of over 200.
“If the world is still around in another 100 years,” he declared, “it will be because of the arts.”
And the large crowd in attendance at the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award at the Manhattan Club above Rosie O’Grady’s on a rainy Monday night was testament to the truth of Seeger’s declaration. The crowd, representing all genres of the arts, had gathered to celebrate Judy Collins’s lifetime of artistic achievement and to show its commitment to further such achievement. The spirit of inspiration, encouragement, generosity, and cross-pollination was abundant in the friendly atmosphere of the Manhattan Club. Indeed, Judy Collins’s long-time friend on the folk music scene, Tom Paxton, was on hand to honor her,. Even the City of New York showed its support for the arts: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn issued a special proclamation in honor of the event.
In keeping with the musical theme of the evening, Black ’47 bandleader, author, and playwright, Larry Kirwan, acted as Master of Ceremonies. Larry got the ceremony started by introducing IAWA President, T.J. English.
“While Peter was writing about ‘a shining city on a hill’ for Mario Cuomo, I was saying, ‘Get the fuck out of my cab.’”
T.J. updated the audience on some of the progress made by the IAWA over the past year, in particular the burgeoning success of the semimonthly Salons at the Café Thalia and the Cell Theatre. These evenings have become so popular that IAWA is preparing a third monthly gathering of artists to share their work with one another.
T.J. also talked about the mission of the IAW&A and of the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award. The Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award was established in 2009 to honor the accomplishments of a writer, actor, musician, or cultural institution that has sustained a body of work that best exemplifies the level of integrity maintained by O’Neill. O’Neill Awards have been presented to Pulitzer-prize winning author William Kennedy, actor Brian Dennehy, and Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly of New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre. Judy Collins is the first musician to receive the award.
|Judy Collins and Tom Moran|
Larry Kirwan next introduced Tom Moran, Chief Executive Officer and President of Mutual of America Life Insurance. Tom began by saying, like T.J., he had been a New York City cab driver. But, unlike T.J., before chasing customers out of the cab, “I always made sure to get the tip.”
|Pete Seeger and Malachy McCourt|
Before bringing Peter Seeger to the stage, Larry Kirwan told the story of how he first met the indomitable folksinger in the ’70s, when Seeger was beginning his campaign to clean up the polluted Hudson River. Larry recalled playing some concerts near Seeger’s hometown, which did not always have the most receptive audiences. As a young man newly arrived from Ireland, Larry marveled at Seeger’s determination to change things and his confidence that his effort would succeed. Seeger’s career, Larry stated, reminds him of the words of Bobby Sands,
“Everyone … has their own particular part to play. No part is too great or too small; no one is too old or too young to do something.”
Pete Seeger did not make a speech. Instead, he strummed his banjo and softly sang, “Quite Early Morning,” about the power of song to inspire the next generation to sing and play and to fight for justice. Seeger’s voice is not as strong as it once was, but his spirit certainly is, and he had a full house willing to join in with him.
“And so keep on while we liveUntil we have no, no more to giveAnd when these fingers can strum no longer
Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger … ”
“I know that you who hear my singing
Could make those freedom bells go ringing.”
|Larry Kirwan and Judy Collins|
Growing up in Wexford, Ireland, Larry Kirwan said he wanted to play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix. Then one day, he turned on Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE), the only channel available on his black-and-white TV at the time, and saw a man alone on stage playing a quiet acoustic guitar and singing. The singer, Tom Paxton, revealed to Larry a new type of communication between artist and audience and Larry realized that music did not have to be “blasted out” to be effective. After this story, Larry got the crowd to sing a few bars from Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing on My Mind.”
Tom Paxton took to the stage with his guitar, and he did sing “The Last Thing on My Mind.” However, he first sang a song about falling in love simultaneously with a woman and with Ireland.
“Never let it be said that I don’t know how to pander to an audience.”
Next up was the man that Larry described as needing no introduction, IAWA Co-Director, Malachy McCourt. In presenting Judy Collins with her Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award, created and donated by Tiffany & Co., Malachy thanked Judy Collins for being a true friend and a treasure throughout the many years that he has known her. He jokingly wished that she would become a Mormon so that she could welcome him as a second husband.
|Tom Paxton, Ashley Davis, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins|
To wrap up the ceremony, Co-Director Ashley Davis gathered Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, and Judy Collins on stage to sing, “Will You Go Lassie, Go?” The audience, of course, was very willing to help out.