You may not be totally familiar with the American Eagle Awards, but our top entertainers definitely are. The prestigious award is given each year to artists and other influential figures for their pioneering contributions and, just as important, their support of the American musical culture and heritage. The National Music Council bestows the honor.

During the 2017 Summer NAMM at the Music City Center in Nashville, three prominent artists became the latest award recipients: country star Crystal Gayle, actor/musician Harry Shearer and rock goddess Patti Smith. The trophies were presented at the American Eagle Awards Dinner, which featured performances by Gayle, famed band leader Paul Shaffer and Smith.

Gayle gave a heartfelt, touching acceptance speech, encouraging the need for musical education in schools. She noted that the American Eagle honor was “especially great” as it came from the National Music Council. “That promotes music education in our schools,” Gayle explained, leading into her own background. “I was born in Paintsville, Kentucky, and the only one born in a hospital. Our music education was singing and playing instruments on our front porch. That porch had great acoustics, by the way,” she added to considerable laughter.

“We moved to Wabash, Indiana,” Gayle continued, “and I was so excited to have music in the schools. I sang in all the choirs and swing groups and I had great teachers.” One particular instructor served as a musical mentor and supported her ambitions to become a professional singer. Gayle compared that experience to today’s world, where many schools do not have the proper funding for musical education.

Crystal Gayle was one of the honorees at the 2017 American Eagle Awards in Nashville. PHOTO BY JASON DAVIS, GETTY IMAGES

She recalled that her own children were able to attend the Nashville School for the Arts and benefited from expert instruction. “Music is joy,” Gayle concluded. “It brings so much.” She wrapped her segment with a performance of her breakthrough crossover hit, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” accompanied by the song’s writer, Richard Leigh.

Shearer is best known as the co-creator behind the fictional, but widely beloved, rock band Spinal Tap as well as the voices behind The Simpsons characters Mr. Burns and Dr. Marvin Monroe. But he’s also a passionate advocate for artists and musical education. Paul Shaffer, who directed the ace Late Night With David Letterman band, paid homage to Shearer with a rendition of “He’s a Rebel,” the 1962 No. 1 pop hit by The Crystals.

Smith, who became a musical force in the 1970’s, is considered one of the most influential rock artists in history, merging poetry with steaming, pulsating sounds. She was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and continues to tour and record. Smith helped bring the awards dinner to a rousing close as she performed her anthemic “People Have the Power,” joined by Gayle and Shearer.

Certainly something you don’t see every day!