At a White House concert held in her honor Wednesday night, Carole King kept busy. The opening act? Carole King. The headliner? Carole King. The cheering section? Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Carole King giving it up for Carole King.
In town to receive the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the 71-year-old songwriting pioneer was the first singer to take the stage in the East Dining Room, charging hard through a version of “Beautiful” from her 1971 solo opus, “Tapestry.”
Then King zipped off stage, plunked down in a front-and-center seat between President Obama and Vice President Biden and proceeded to rock out.
This was supposed to be a party, right?
As the first woman to receive the Gershwin Prize, King had plenty of reason to celebrate. The library has been handing out this songwriting award — named after American composers George and Ira Gershwin — since 2007. This week, King joined a list of honorees that includes Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and the words-and-melody team of Hal David and Burt Bacharach.
With King settled into her chair, the guests began to arrive. Gloria Estefan, Trisha Yearwood and young Brit singer Emeli Sandé— she’s the most exciting emerging voice the White House has hosted in many moons — teamed first for “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” a 1960 King hit that the Shirelles took to the tip-top of the charts when the songwriter was still a teenager.
Next, friend and longtime collaborator James Taylor mellowed things out with “Up on the Roof.” King cheered her buddy from the front row, mouthing along to the words, conducting the song with a clenched fist.
Then our report gets muffled. Members of the news media were scooted away from a viewing area in the White House briefing room to the vestibule, where they waited for entry to the performance space. During the interlude, Yearwood might have sung “So Far Away.” Billy Joel might have done “The Loco-Motion.” And someone who sounded like Taylor may have sung “Cryin’ in the Rain” with a duet partner who definitely sounded like someone else.
There was no mistaking, however, Sandé’s rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” The 26-year-old’s voice proved that it can carry emotion through sealed doors.
When the media were finally crammed into the room, Obama stepped to the lectern and crunched the numbers, explaining: “Carole has written more than 400 compositions that have been recorded by over 1,000 artists, resulting in over 100 hits.”
King followed. “I guess if the president can sing, I can give a speech,” she said, graciously thanking former songwriting collaborators David Palmer, Toni Stern and ex-husband Gerry Goffin.
Then she dove into a closing four-song suite — “Jazzman,” “I Believe in Loving You,” “I Feel the Earth Move” and “You’ve Got a Friend” with Taylor, and eventually the entire cast. The penultimate tune was the strongest, with King stomping her heels repeatedly into the stage and then asking her audience a two-word question: “Fun, huh?”
Twitter: @Chris _Richards
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