By AUDREY FISCHER
Declaring it “Wonder Week in Washington, D.C.,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billington began a week of Gershwin Prize festivities on Monday, Feb. 23, with a press conference announcing Stevie Wonder as the recipient of the second Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
“Stevie Wonder is the epitome of what the Gershwin Prize stands for,” said Billington. “He has created a very distinctive body of music that has become an important part of America’s fabric.”
The Gershwin Prize, which President Barack Obama presented to the artist at a special concert in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 25, commemorates George and Ira Gershwin, the legendary American songwriting team whose extensive manuscript collections reside in the Library. The prize is awarded to musicians whose lifetime contributions in the field of popular song exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins. Paul Simon received the first Gershwin Prize in 2007.
Peter Kaminsky, one of the creators and executive producers of the Gershwin Prize, marveled that he was standing at a podium with his former Princeton professor, the Librarian, as well as the legendary composer of “Fingertips,” Wonder’s 1963 hit. “It’s an amazingly intelligent, spiritual piece of music,” said Kaminsky.
“I never imagined being here today,” said Wonder at the press conference. He recalled participating in the Library’s Talking Book Program for the blind and physically handicapped while growing up in Detroit.