Embattled Attorney General Eric Holder said he felt “sheer joy” May 21 at a tribute concert for Carole King, recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Holder was glad “to get away from the toxic partisanship and all that Washington stuff, and just have fun,” he told me.
He swayed and clapped along to his “many favorites”, including “Up on the Roof” and the finale, sung and played by King — “You’ve Got A Friend”.
The attorney general may be wondering whether he’s got a friend these days. He testified before the House Judiciary Committee May 15 about the Justice Department’s sweeping subpoena of AP phone records, and the IRS targeting of conservative groups. And those are just two of the hot controversies.
But for one night, Holder and Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle agreed on one thing, Carole King, the first female recipient of the Gershwin Prize.
“I like her music, I like her politics, and I like her,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told me.
King is a long-time advocate for justice, equality, and the environment. She is also a multiple-Grammy winning singer-songwriter, four in one year alone; writer of more than 400 songs, resulting in 100 hits for her and other top artists; creator of 25 solo albums, eight of which went Gold, two Platinum, one Diamond; and the list goes on.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said, “Great music.” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Mar.) told me, “I love her. She’s ageless.” And the raves go on.
The entire audience in the Library’s usually staid Coolidge Auditorium kept leaping to their feet for standing ovations, not only for King, but also for the other performers, especially:
- Michael Feinstein, who hosted the concert and sang a medley of Gershwin classics like “Of Thee I Sing” and “S’Wonderful”. Feinstein said, “Like the Gershwins, Carole transcends time. Her diversity of style would certainly make the Gershwins proud.” He, and later King, played a piano once owned by Ira and George Gershwin, who composed most of “Porgy and Bess” on it.
- Siedah Garrett stopped the show with the gospel song “Way Over Yonder” by King, whose real name is Klein, and again with “I Feel the Earth Move”. Siedah, who wrote “Man in the Mirror” for Michael Jackson, pointed to King and called her “a songwriting sister…Your music is a promise kept.”
- Patti Austin and nine-time Grammy winner trumpeter Arturo Sandoval performed a rousing “Jazzman”, including a scat duet. Austin said, “Carole is my queen…I’ve never been so honored in my life as to sing your songs for such a wonderful woman.” Then Austin wowed with “(I Feel Like A) Natural Woman”.
- Louise Goffin, King’s daughter with her first husband and songwriting collaborator Gerry Goffin — Feinstein praised her “musical DNA mashup — sang “Beautiful”. She dedicated it to “my beautiful and beloved mother.”
King was the first to stand and applaud for every performer, after bouncing in her seat and singing along with each one.
“The greatest joy for me is to hear people interpret my songs,” King told the audience after she sang “You Are A Part of Me” and “You’ve Got A Friend”. She added, “These performers were magnificent.”
She said it was also “a joy for me to collaborate. I share this award with every one of my co-writers.”
The Gershwin Prize honors artists whose entire body of work exemplifies the excellence of the songwriting brothers.
The Library of Congress bestowed its Gershwin Prize previously on Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, and the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. David died in 2012, but the other recipients served on the selection committee, with other music leaders, for this year’s prize.
President Obama presented the Gershwin Prize to King May 22 at the White House, where there was a second tribute concert. Performers in addition to King included James Taylor, “I was reluctantly dragged forward by James Taylor to be a singer”, Billy Joel, and Gloria Estefan.
“It’s not always easy, but the music keeps playing,” King wrote, now so apt for President Obama and Attorney General Holder.
During more than half a century of her songwriting, she has left no doubt about “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”?