Carole King's gift as a songwriter is all about connection — friends, lovers, strangers experiencing deep emotions not often exposed to each other.
Over the decades, King has made that connection with untold millions of fans. Some of those fans came out to honor the songwriter as MusiCares person of the year Friday night as part of the build up to Sunday's Grammy Awards. Among them, lifelong friend James Taylor, Gloria Estefan, Alicia Keys and Lady Gaga, who thanked King for getting her through some difficult years before she found fame as a songwriter herself.
Gaga told the crowd she used to lock herself in her father's man room as a high school student and listen to "You've Got a Friend" over and over.
"And I would crank up this song so loud," Gaga said as she sat at a white baby grand piano in the center of the room wearing steampunk sunglasses and a flowing white dress. "And I really believed so much, Carole, that you were my friend. So thank you so much for the way you sing right to us in your music."
Toward the end of the song, Gaga modified the lyrics: "You've got a friend, yes you do, Carole, I love you."
Lady Gaga earned the first of a handful of standing ovations at the annual event, a fundraiser benefiting The Recording Academy's musician-oriented charity.
A silent auction and other activities before the dinner and concert raised $5.5 million and the audience pushed that number higher before the singing started with a live auction that included $120,000 for a copy of King's landmark "Tapestry" album on vinyl with a set of lyrics handwritten by King. Zac Brown bought an Acura specially equipped in honor of the event for $70,000, and the car maker kicked in an extra $30,000 to the charity.
Estefan, a former MusiCares person of the year, sang "It's Too Late," and told the crowd "Tapestry" was "the No.1 most impactful" album she'd ever heard. Keys nailed "Natural Woman," a song most identified with Aretha Franklin, also modifying the lyrics at the end to pay tribute to King. And Train's Pat Monahan left the stage to serenade the 71-year-old singer-songwriter directly on "I Feel the Earth Move."
Many of the night's most interesting performances came from the pairing of artists. Album of the year nominee Sara Bareilles, Jason Mraz and Zac Brown joined together on a stripped-down "Beautiful." Will.I.Am was joined on stage by protege Leah McFall and added a rapped verse to King's "Love Makes the World." Miranda Lambert, Jennifer Nettles, Amy Grant and Martina McBride joined together in a medley of songs. King's daughter, Louise Goffin, and Jakob Dylan sang "Going Back." And Miguel and Kacey Musgraves dueted on "I'll Do My Crying in the Rain," a song King and Taylor performed together.
King also was in a collaborative mood. She brought a pair of Egyptian musicians on stage to add an Arabic flavor to "Home Again." Taylor joined her next, finishing the evening as a part of her band.
"As a songwriter my dream was always and still is to hear great singers perform my songs," King told the crowd. "It does not get any better than this folks."