Tops in pop: Gershwin Prize goes to McCartney

By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 16, 2009

Paul McCartney played his first U.S. gig with the Beatles in Washington more than four decades ago. Reflecting on that fact at FedEx Field in August, the 67-year-old smiled and told the crowd, "We've got bigger amps now!"

Hopefully he has a bigger mantle, too: Monday, the Library of Congress will announce McCartney as its third recipient of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

McCartney is scheduled to return to Washington and accept the award in spring 2010, but many details are fuzzy. The library has promised an all-star tribute concert featuring the former Beatle, but the all-stars have not yet been named. Neither has a venue. The White House hosted the ceremony earlier this year, but the location of next spring's event is under wraps.

Here's what we do know: Macca rules.

"It's hard to think of another performer and composer who has had a more indelible and transformative effect on popular song and music of several different genres than Paul McCartney," James H. Billington, librarian of Congress, said in a statement.

Billington selected McCartney for the prize, which commemorates brothers George and Ira Gershwin, the iconic songwriting duo whose manuscripts are maintained by the Library of Congress.

"As a great admirer of the Gershwins' songs, I am highly honored to be given the Gershwin Prize by such a great institution as the Library of Congress," McCartney said in a statement.

McCartney will be the third songwriter to receive the honor; Paul Simon received the inaugural award in May 2007 and Stevie Wonder was celebrated in February 2009.

Both artists donated works to the library: Simon offered the original manuscript containing lyrics to his beloved song "Graceland," while Wonder was commissioned to write a sprawling composition called "Sketches of a Life." McCartney's contribution has not yet been confirmed.

The announcement comes when Beatlemania is on the rebound. A digitally remastered version of the band's entire discography was released in September alongside the video game "The Beatles: Rock Band" -- both of which are expected to enjoy a considerable uptick in sales before Christmas.

McCartney is also fresh from an acclaimed summer tour of the United States and is preparing for a similar lap around Europe in December.

Accolades and honors are nothing new for Sir Paul. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997 and owns so many Grammys, he could use them as doorstops.

The Gershwin Prize will honor McCartney for a lifetime of work that spans from his time with the Beatles to Wings to his solo work today. Born in Liverpool, England, in 1942, McCartney wrote his first song at the age of 14.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company