American Music Honors for Dion, Mellencamp, Browne, Staples (REVIEW, VIDEOS, PHOTOS)

AMERICAN music honors 2024


From left, Bruce Springsteen, Mavis Staples, Darlene Love, Dion DiMucci, John Mellencamp and Jackson Browne perform at The Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, April 24.

“Backstage, Stevie Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, John Mellencamp … we decided to put our careers on hold,” said Dion DiMucci at the second annual American Music Honors show, presented by Monmouth University’s Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music at the West Long Branch university’s Pollak Theatre, April 24. “We’re going out on the road with Mavis Staples as The New Staple Singers.”

He was joking. But certainly, a deep feeling of mutual respect and camaraderie among the four honorees (Mellencamp, Dion, Staples and Browne) and the four people who introduced them (Springsteen, Van Zandt, Darlene Love and Springsteen manager/The Pretender producer Jon Landau, respectively) was quite palpable at this remarkable event, which was hosted by Brian Williams and featured Van Zandt’s Disciples of Soul as the house band. You almost believed that such a thing as The New Staple Singers, with this lineup, could be possible.


Mavis Staples performs at The Pollak Theatre.

The honorees performed one song apiece after making their acceptance speeches, and the evening ended with more performances by all four, along with Springsteen, Van Zandt and Love (who sang a sensational version of the feverish Ike & Tina Turner hit, “River Deep — Mountain High”). The evening ended with everyone onstage together, performing a funky version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

All of the show’s participants sat in audience when they weren’t onstage. Springsteen and Van Zandt, in fact, were in the front row, by the stairs to the stage, so they often were seen helping the others as they came and went.

The Disciples of Soul stayed onstage throughout the evening, and performed on everything except for Mellencamp’s solo acoustic “Jack & Diane.”

“No pressure,” said Williams at one point. “Just play American classics in front of, and for, the artists who recorded them.”

Here is a rundown of the evening, with some excerpts from the speeches, and some videos. At the bottom of the page is a photo gallery by John Cavanaugh.

Welcome by Archives executive director Bob Santelli.

“Abraham, Martin and John” by Disciples of Soul (sung by Jessie Wagner, Tania Jones and Sara Devine).
“Doctor My Eyes” by Disciples of Soul (sung by Marc Ribler).
“Respect Yourself” by Disciples of Soul (sung by Jessie Wagner, Tania Jones and Sara Devine).
“Pink Houses” by Disciples of Soul (sung by Marc Ribler).

These songs — signature hits for Dion, Browne, The Staple Singers and Mellencamp, respectively — were performed by The Disciples of Soul without the original artists.

Intro by Williams.

“This is going to knock your socks off,” he promises.

Remarks by Gov. Murphy.

Remarks by Santelli and Archives director Eileen Chapman

Love speaks about Staples.

“Mavis is someone who has always been on the front line — in music, Civil Rights, and in standing up (against) forces that have sought to keep women from entering their rightful place onstage, and to sing, and express themselves, as the Spirit would move (them).”

Staples acceptance speech and performance of “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” with Disciples of Soul.

“I’m just a girl from Chicago who started singing with her father when I was 9 years old. And folks didn’t believe that the voice was coming from this little skinny, knock-kneed girl … to go from that time, singing with my father, with my siblings, on our living room floor, to being here, and receiving this honor, is just amazing.”

Van Zandt talks about Dion.

“If cats have nine lives, a cat named Dion stopped counting his lives a long time ago.” Van Zandt also says the Dion jukebox musical “The Wanderer” (presented at The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn in 2022) is “soon to open on Broadway.”

Dion acceptance speech and performance of “King of the New York Streets” with Disciples of Soul.

“I was talking to (Mavis Staples) in the green room. I said, ‘Mavis, we were born the same year, the same month, eight days apart. I’m eight days younger than you. You were born on July 10. I was born on July 18. I’m eight days younger than you! Mavis, if you ever want to go out with a younger guy …”

Landau talks about Browne.

“My contribution to the production of (The Pretender) can be summarized as followed: ‘Jackson, don’t sound too mopey. Sing out, loud and proud. And most importantly, turn that goddamn snare drum up.’ He wound up doing all of that, and the album came out sounding pretty, pretty good. … Now, I only worked with Jackson once. But I’m happy to observe that on every other album since then, Jackson never sounds mopey, he sings out, loud and proud, and that snare drum cracks like crazy.”

Browne’s acceptance speech and performance of “Running on Empty” with Disciples of Soul.

“Sometimes in my songs when I say ‘you,’ I mean ‘me,’ like I’m speaking to myself — hopefully, not just to myself. And however willing I’ve been to express what was wrong or sorrowful or painful, I’m always trying to look for what is good, and to end on a positive note. And failing that, I hope that I was at least raising worthwhile questions.”

Springsteen talks about Mellencamp.

“His eye for the details of working class life in the belly of the country has been flawless and unforgiving. … He’s captured and remained true to an unflinching vision of a country at war with itself, a country caught between its hard realities and better angels. And even more than the detail of the blue collar life he captures so perfectly, is an underlying taciturn, stubborn, unsentimental streak that he mines better than anybody else.

“Our work has often been compared, but ‘Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone’ is something I wouldn’t have known how to write. It’s pure John. ‘Wasted Days’: ‘Who among us could ever see clear? The end is coming, it’s almost here.’ Now when it’s over, I sing, ‘I’ll see you in my dreams.’ But John sings, ‘When the lights are out, they’re out, fool.’ And that’s the toughness in his vision that I’ve always admired.”

Springsteen also said that Mellencamp’s “featuring of traditional country and roots instrumentation mixed with a rhythm section and the energy of a rock band is something that he invented. It formed the bedrock of alternative-country, and country music today, and it’s something he really hasn’t gotten the credit for, that he so richly deserves.”

Mellencamp’s acceptance speech and solo performance of “Jack & Diane.”

Springsteen “put down a big footprint for young songwriters. He put down a big footprint — him and (Bob) Dylan, for me. And (Woody) Guthrie. And Bruce just kind of put it down and said, ‘There it is, punk. Fill my footprint.’ And that was inspiration for me, ’cause I could hear him, and I could hear Bob, and I could go, ‘God, these guys … maybe me, too.’ ”

Mellencamp also mentioned that he and Springsteen have created a painting together. “Bruce was really good. He was really intense. He worked at it.”

Springsteen performs “Small Town” with Disciples of Soul. Mellencamp joins them, about halfway through.

Dion performs “The Wanderer” with Disciples of Soul.

Browne performs “Take It Easy” with Disciples of Soul.

Love performs “River Deep — Mountain High” with Disciples of Soul.

Springsteen and Van Zandt perform “Glory Days” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” with Disciples of Soul.

Everyone performs “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with Disciples of Soul.

The first American Music Honors show took place in April 2023, honored Van Zandt, Love, Sam Moore and Steve Earle. Springsteen was unable to attend due to COVID, but inducted Van Zandt and Love via taped messages.

For more on the Archives, visit

Springsteen & the E Street Band’s current tour is on a break, but will resume May 5 at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

On April 26, part of Wilson Avenue in Middletown, where Van Zandt grew up, will be renamed Van Zandt Way in honor of him and his half-brother, the playwright, producer, actor and Emmy-nominated television writer Billy Van Zandt.


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