Paul McCartney landed in Washington, DC this week where he will be honored by fellow artists and awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song by President Obama during a concert at the White House tonight.
As the third winner of the prize presented by the Library of Congress, Sir Paul invited a hand-picked slate of stars to perform his songs, including Stevie Wonder, who won the Gershwin prize last year, Elvis Costello, Jack White (of the White Stripes), The Jonas Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters fame, among others.
In a rehearsal on Monday across town, several of the artists practiced their licks with the McCartney band, which is set to anchor the 90-minute show that will feature a score of Paul’s best known songs.
The small group of invited friends, guests and staff that were on hand broke into wild applause following a flawless solo by a US Marine Band member who was invited to recreate the bright notes of the piccolo trumpet for Penny Lane. Costello, who co-wrote 12 songs with McCartney, provided the lilting vocals.
When asked why the Jonas Brothers were chosen, Paul’s manager said that McCartney, who turns 68 this month, wanted to give a hat tip to the younger generation. Though he doesn’t know them personally, the beloved Beatle was about their age when he wrote the song they are to perform.
On Tuesday, at a small recital at the Library of Congress, McCartney performed several acoustic songs, including Blackbird and Yesterday, which holds the Guinness world record as the most recorded song in the history of popular music, with more than 3,000 cover versions. The song’s melody in its entirety came to him in a dream one night.
McCartney is the third songwriter to be awarded the Gershwin. Paul Simon received the inaugural award from the Library in May 2007.
For McCartney, a known Obama fan, the night offered the opportunity to dedicate a song to the First Lady. He personally serenaded Michelle Obama on acoustic guitar with the popular classic, Michelle, accompanied by his keyboardist on accordion.
At a press conference at the Library, he fielded a range of questions from the political to the musical. Asked how he felt about the President, he quipped, “He’s a great guy — so lay off him!” Asked how his songwriting process has changed over the years, he said the whole thing was a mystery. “You start with a black hole and if you’re lucky, a couple hours later there’ll be a song waiting there. That mystery, that magic is still the same for me.”
McCartney came from a musical family. His father played trumpet in a jazz band and encouraged his son to play. Playing the piano in their home, young Paul wrote his second song, “When I’m Sixty-Four”, when he was just sixteen. On his father’s advice, he took music lessons, but he preferred to learn ‘by ear’ so never paid much attention to them.
“It’s fantastic for me to be here because as a little kid I grew up listening to the music of the Gershwin Brothers and loved it and had no idea, of course, that one day I might be in such a place, getting an honor such as this.”
Jerry Seinfeld emcees the evening concert, which will be broadcast on July 28 nationwide on PBS as part of its In Performance at the White House series. The famed Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick, was hired to do the final recording mix. (WATCH Obama’s award presentation below)