September 2, 2008 (REVISED February 17, 2009) Singer/Songwriter Stevie Wonder Named Recipient of Library of Congress Gershwin Prize
Wonder To Perform Library Commission Feb. 23, 2009 at Library of Congress; To Receive Prize from President Obama, Headline Concert at White House Feb. 25; Concert To Air on PBS Feb. 26
Press Contact: Jennifer Gavin (202) 707-1940
Public Contact: Susan H. Vita (202) 707-5503
Website: Gershwin Prize for Popular Song
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington today named singer/songwriter Stevie Wonder—who burst on the scene in the early 1960s as a musical prodigy, and whose dance hits and love songs segued over the years into thoughtful commentaries on the joy and injustice in our world—as the recipient of the Second Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The award presentation will be made in the East Room of the White House by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009 and Wonder will headline a gala concert there that evening.
As an added distinction to this year’s Gershwin Prize, the Library has offered, and Wonder has accepted, a musical commission, which he will perform Monday, Feb. 23 at an invitation-only event at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. He joins a group of eminent composers who have received Library commissions, ranging from Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein to Paquito D’Rivera and, most recently, Hungarian classical musician György Kurtág.
"It’s an immense privilege to join such a remarkable roster of musicians and composers," Wonder said. "I am touched to receive this honor, and look forward to creating music for the celebration."
PBS is slated to air the White House concert on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. eastern (check local listings) as “Stevie Wonder in Performance at the White House: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize.”
"The Gershwin Prize was created to honor an artist whose creative output transcends distinctions between musical styles and idioms, bringing diverse listeners together, and fostering mutual understanding and appreciation," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "Stevie Wonder’s music epitomizes this ideal."
The prize commemorates George and Ira Gershwin, the legendary American songwriting team whose extensive manuscript collections reside in the Library of Congress. The prize is awarded to musicians whose lifetime contributions in the field of popular song exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins.
The first Gershwin Prize was awarded in May 2007 to Paul Simon.
Born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950, Stevie became blind shortly after birth. He learned to play the harmonica, piano and drums by age 9. By the time he was 10, his singing and other musical skills were known throughout his neighborhood, and when the family moved to Detroit, impressed adults made his talents known to the owners of Motown Records, who gave him a recording contract when he was age 12.
The LP featured his first nationwide hit – "Fingertips." That recording was followed in just a few more years by "Uptight (Everything’s All Right)" "For Once in My Life," "My Cherie Amour," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours," and "If You Really Love Me."
He undertook the study of classical piano, and later, music theory, and beginning in 1967, he began writing more of his own material. He authored the Smokey Robinson hit "The Tears of a Clown."
In the early 1970s, Wonder toured with the Rolling Stones and had major hits with the songs "Superstition" and "You are the Sunshine of My Life." In the mid-70s, his album "Songs in the Key of Life" topped the charts for 14 weeks. It includes the breakout hits "I Wish," "Sir Duke," and "Pastime Paradise;" the latter song was sampled in 1995 within a hit by another artist, Coolio. Stevie’s songs have been covered by many artists including Eric Clapton, Barbra Streisand, Marc Anthony, Mary J. Blige, John Mellencamp, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, just to name a few.
Over the years Stevie 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, Stevie became the youngest honoree of the Kennedy Center Honors.
He was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2002, and in 2004 he won the Johnny Mercer Award in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding creative work.
In 2005, the Library of Congress added Stevie 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."
The creators and executive producers of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song are Peter and Bob Kaminsky, Mark Krantz and Cappy McGarr, who are also the creators and executive producers of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, now in its 11th year.
In making the selection for the prize, the Librarian of Congress turned for advice to leading members of the music and entertainment communities. This year’s advisory committee consisted of Michael Feinstein, Lorne Michaels, Phil Ramone, Paul Simon and Allen Toussaint.
The Library is home to the George and Ira Gershwin Collection, the world’s preeminent resource for the documentary legacy of the Gershwin brothers. It contains a wealth of materials that provide insight into their careers and personalities, including manuscripts and printed music, photographs, correspondence, business papers, scrapbooks and iconography. A permanent tribute to the Gershwins and their work, the Gershwin Room (temporarily closed due to construction in the Jefferson Building) features George’s piano and desk, Ira’s typing table and typewriter, self portraits of both brothers, and a selection of musical manuscripts from Gershwin stage and screen shows such as "Lady Be Good," "Funny Face," "Girl Crazy" and "Of Thee I Sing."
Given the Library’s long association with the Gershwin family and the profound effect the brothers had in the evolution of American music, it is fitting the Library memorialize this relationship in the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
The Library’s unparalleled music holdings include manuscripts, scores, sound recordings, books, libretti, music related periodicals and microforms, copyright deposits and musical instruments. Manuscripts of note include those of European masters such as Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Brahms and those of American masters such as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Oscar Hammerstein, Jelly Roll Morton and Charles Mingus. The Alan Lomax collection of field recordings of American roots music, Woody Guthrie’s original recordings and manuscripts, and one of a kind recordings of bluesman Robert Johnson from the 1930s are also among the Library’s musical treasures.