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You know it’s a rare moment when you can make a Foo Fighter cry and the Jonas Brothers stare in rapt attention. But it was all in a day’s work for Sir Paul McCartney, who came to the Library of Congress on June 1 to thank the Librarian of Congress for naming him the recipient of the third Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
A star-studded audience packed the Coolidge Auditorium that evening to enjoy an all-too-brief, yet very intimate, performance of Macca’s music. Joining the Librarian of Congress, Library staff, members of Congress and other invited guests included previous Gershwin Prize winners Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder; and also singer/songwriter Elvis Costello, jazz great and Library Living Legend Herbie Hancock, the aforementioned Foo Fighter Dave Grohl (also of Nirvana fame), Jack White of the rock group the White Stripes, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, singer Emmylou Harris, comedian Jerry Seinfeld and singer Faith Hill. All were in town to toast the former Beatle, and several were set to perform in a concert at the White House the next night, where the President and First Lady would officially bestow the Gershwin Medal on McCartney.
“I’ve had the privilege of welcoming presidents and kings,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in her opening remarks. “Tonight we are welcoming musical royalty.” She said that McCartney’s music was “timeless” much as the Gershwins’ was. Her reminder that the night also marked the 43rd anniversary of the release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was met with resounding applause.
After remarks from Pelosi and Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, the Loma Mar Quartet performed, using string instruments from the Library’s Cremonese collection, which includes priceless violins, a viola and a cello made by Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri. McCartney and the quartet had worked together before with his 1999 album “Working Classical,” the collection from which they performed.
Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang was clearly in the groove as he performed McCartney’s “A Leaf” on the very same piano George Gershwin used to compose. At one point he paused for a moment—not for dramatic interpretation, but because someone’s cellphone went off, much to the chagrin of the audience.
The edge-of-the-seat moment finally arrived as Sir McCartney took the stage, looking dapper in his dark suit, perfectly coiffed and smiling.
“Some of the stuff you write, you don’t know where it comes from … it’s a mysterious process,” he began. “With ‘Yesterday,’ the song came to me in a dream, so I have to believe in the magic.
“Actually, the original lyrics were ‘Scrambled eggs, oh my baby, how I love your legs,’” he quipped before strapping on his guitar and giving the audience what they came for. (Cue the aforementioned Grohl waterworks.)
Luckily, the Librarian led McCartney back on stage following what was assumed to be a single-song performance.
“I’m really unprepared, but I like little informal gatherings like this,” said the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, as he got comfortable, unbuttoning his shirt and loosening his tie.
His encore of “Blackbird” brought down the house.
“I love you all,” he said, exiting the stage.
Library Of Congress
This was the 1st and only concert played at Library Of Congress.