President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are hosting singer/songwriter Carole King at the White House tonight. Is it a special occasion? Why yes, it is – they’re honoring Ms. King for winning the 2013 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Mr. Obama will present the award himself, and then the First Couple and favored guests will watch a concert featuring King, Billy Joel, Gloria Estefan, James Taylor, Jesse McCartney, Emeli Sande, and Trisha Yearwood. That’s a mix of generations there, but it’s still heavy on the singer/songwriter era, isn’t it?
The concert will be live-streamed from the White House website starting at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday. It’ll also be broadcast on many PBS stations next Tuesday as part of the “In Performance at the White House” series.
King plans to debut a new song during the concert, “I Believe in Loving You." She co-wrote it with lyricist Hal David, who was a co-winner of the Gershwin Prize in 2011 with his longtime collaborator Bert Bacharach. Mr. David passed away in September of last year.
“I’m hoping that this will become a song that people will want to play at their weddings. It’s so romantic. Hal is such a great writer, and his words live on forever,” King told the Associated Press this week.
The Manhattan-born King herself is a songwriter whose work has defined a generation. Her first No. 1 was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for the Shirelles. Her 1971 album “Tapestry," which included the hits “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel the Earth Move," among others, remains one of the best-selling records of all time.
Everyone from the Beatles to Aretha Franklin has recorded her work. That’s why King is so remarkable, said Librarian of Congress James Billington.
“When the Beatles got off the plane, the first person they wanted to meet was Carole King when they first came to America,” said Mr. Billington. “She was kind of a phenomenon among the performers themselves.”
The Gershwin Prize hasn’t been around that long. Billington created it in 2007 as part of the Library’s mission to foster creativity. The first winner was Paul Simon. Stevie Wonder was the second, Paul McCartney the third, and the Bacharach and David team the fourth.
Yes, but who picks the winner? Good question. It’s not exactly a scientific or rigorous electoral process. (No, we’re not calling the results into question, we’re just pointing that out.)
Here’s the way the Library of Congress describes it: “The selection is made by the Library of Congress in consultation with a board that is both credible and broad enough in scope to represent the full spectrum of popular song. Board members may include but need not be limited to scholars, producers, performers, music critics, songwriters, and subject specialists within and outside the Library of Congress."
Hmm. We wonder if the president has veto power over the choice. After a long day dealing with IRS scandal and so forth, the last thing you need is an evening listening to someone whose records you hated in high school or who recorded the favorite song of the girlfriend/boyfriend who dumped you first.