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“S’Wonderful, S’Marvelous”

Much like the Gershwin song was the incomparable Stevie Wonder’s performance of his Library of Congress commission, “Sketches of a Life,” on Feb. 23, 2009. As the awardee of the second Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, Wonder’s nine-movement work featured a 21-piece chamber orchestra, involving strings, woodwinds and percussion and combined elements of pop, classical and jazz. “Sketches” was written between 1976 and 1994 as an autobiographical score to the musician’s own life. All he needed was the impetus, he said, to show it to the world. Thanks to the Library, he did just that.

Stevie Wonder performs his Library of Congress commission with a 21-piece orchestra. 2009 Portrait of George Gershwin, 1937

The invitation-only concert was taped and a portion of it is offered as a webcast on the Library’s site. Also available is a webcast of an earlier press conference, where Wonder discussed the composition.

Wonder joins a group of eminent composers who have received Library commissions, ranging from Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and Béla Bartók to Paquito D’Rivera and Cecil Taylor.

Two days later, during a special concert in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama presented Wonder with the Gershwin Prize. Among those honoring him was Paul Simon, who received the naugural Gershwin Prize in 2007.

The prize 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.

When Simon was awarded the Gershwin Prize, a concert was held in his honor at the Warner Theatre, featuring such performers as Alison Krauss, Marc Anthony, Wonder, James Taylor and the other half of Simon’s former duo, Art Garfunkel. The June 2007 Library of Congress Information Bulletin featured a cover story on Simon and the prize, along with images from the concert. Also available as a webcast is the gala dinner, at which Librarian of Congress James H. Billington officially awarded Simon with the medal.

A. Stevie Wonder performs his Library of Congress commission with a 21-piece orchestra. 2009. Matt Raymond. Library of Congress. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.

B. Portrait of George Gershwin, 1937. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-92498 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 12735, no. 408 [P&P]