Seeing the "kids' faces light up and the joy they get out of making music" keeps "your energy level up," says Love.
In that environment, "you're either going to be 72 ... or you're going to be a teenager. And I prefer to be a teenager."
The benefit also featured Steven Van Zandt, last year's winner and Love's longtime champion; saxophonist Jake Clemons, the Big Man's nephew; and other members of Bruce Springsteen's musical posse. Paul Shaffer, David Letterman's musical director, took a turn on the keyboard.
Love, who was discovered as a teenager, powered producer Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." Her resume "almost defies belief," says her Rock Hall biography.
But "for much of her life she worked in relative anonymity in studios and on stages, backing up others," it says. "... Love is best known for 'He's a Rebel,' a song credited to the Crystals that was ... sung by Love and her vocal group, the Blossoms."
Her roller-coaster life is detailed in a biography, "My Name Is Love," and the movie "20 Feet From Stardom," a hit at the most recent Sundance Film Festival.
During one dry spell, she worked as a maid. Her employers didn't know those old hits on their radios were recorded by the woman scrubbing their toilets.
She toils in obscurity no more. Love was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2011.
On Thursday night, Love and Medley wowed the crowd with "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling."
She also rendered a feel-good "Don't Worry Baby" with Wilson.
Van Zandt, guitar in hand, bounced to the beat, smiling broadly and making funny faces, while conducting. His wife, Maureen Van Zandt, a choreographer, got the audience dancing during "River Deep — Mountain High" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."
Clemons accompanied the kids in an energetic "He's a Rebel."
Love still considers herself a stereotype-smashing rebel.
"Excuse me, just because I'm 72 doesn't mean I don't have it anymore," Love says of producers who "want to see Miley Cyrus."