“Stevie Wonder In Performance at the White House: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize” will showcase an evening of celebration with President and Mrs. Obama at the White House in honor of American musician Stevie Wonder’s receipt of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
The concert on Wednesday night featured performances by Wonder himself and Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, Martina McBride, Esperanza Spalding, Will.i.am, and the gospel duo Mary Mary. The sixty-minute program will air tonight, Thursday, February 26, at 8 p.m. ET on PBS stations throughout the US.
The program is the first for the Obama administration in a 30-year series of ‘In Performance at the White House’ — broadcasts linking every president since 1978. Each ‘In Performance at the White House’ is produced by WETA, the Public Television station in the nation’s capital, and offers viewers a unique front row seat, right next to the First Family, for the best in music, dance and Broadway theater.
Michelle Obama opened the concert on a personal note telling stories about how Wonder had been a part of her life. “Tonight it is a huge thrill for me as we honor a man whose music and lyrics I fell in love with when I was a little girl. The first album I ever bought was Steve Wonder’s ‘Talking Book.’ I’d go to my grandfather’s, because he’d blast music throughout the house. And that’s where he and I would sit and listen to Stevie’s music together. Songs about life, love, romance, heartache, despair. He would let me listen to these songs over and over and over and over again. Years later, I discovered what Stevie meant when he sang about love. Barack and I chose the song, ‘You and I’ as our wedding song.”
Stevie Wonder gained prominence in the early 1960s as a musical prodigy, creating dance hits and love songs that have segued through the years into thoughtful multi-cultural commentaries. Born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950, Wonder became blind shortly after birth. He learned to play the harmonica, piano and drums by age 9 and by age 12 he had received a recording contract from Motown Records. His numerous hits include “Fingertips,” “For Once in My Life,” “My Cherie Amour,” “If You Really Love Me,” “You are the Sunshine of My Life, and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” which became the campaign theme song for Barack Obama, played after each and every rally and speech.
Over the years Wonder has delivered 32 No. 1 R&B and Pop singles, 49 Top 40 R&B and Pop singles, and garnered 25 Grammy Awards, as well as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996. He collected an Academy Award for the 1984 hit “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from the film The Woman in Red. In 1989, he was inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. In 1999, Wonder became the youngest honoree of the Kennedy Center Honors.
The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song is named in honor of the legendary George and Ira Gershwin. This award recognizes the profound and positive effect of popular music on the world’s culture. The prize is given annually to a composer or performer whose lifetime contributions exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins. The first Gershwin Prize was awarded to Paul Simon in May 2007.
In 2005, the Library of Congress added Wonder’s 1976 double album “Songs in the Key of Life” to the National Recording Registry, which recognizes recordings that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”
“In Performance at the White House,” produced by WETA since 1978, began with an East Room recital by the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz in 1978, and since then has embraced virtually every genre of American music: pop, country, gospel, jazz and the blues among them. The series was created to showcase the rich fabric of American culture in the setting of the nation’s most famous home. Past programs have showcased such talent as the United States Marine Band, singer Natalie Cole, the best of Broadway musicals and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Visit www.pbs.org/inperformanceatthewhitehouse for more info, video and to interact with Stevie Wonder fans.