Obama to honour songwriting duo Bacharach and David with Gershwin Prize
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Obama to honour songwriting duo Bacharach and David with Gershwin Prize

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is honouring the brainpower behind the unforgettable tunes “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” ”Close to You,” and others recorded by artists spanning Dionne Warwick, the Carpenters, Alicia Keys and the cast of “Glee.”

On Wednesday night, Obama will present the songwriting duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. In the 1960s and beyond, their work produced some of the most popular music for movies, television and recording artists.

In return for all the memorable hits and love songs, the 83-year-old Bacharach said he would love to hear the president sing a few lines. The composer said he’ll play piano for Obama any time if he wants to sing to the first lady.

“Nothing would make me happier because the guy can really sing,” Bacharach told The Associated Press. “I heard him on YouTube sing ‘Walk On By,’ and it just blew me away.”

The Library of Congress awards its Gershwin Prize as a lifetime achievement award to honour the legacy of the songwriting team of George and Ira Gershwin. Bacharach and David truly reflected the Gershwins as a combination of composer and lyricist and have produced one of the world’s “most recognizable and richest multigenerational playlists,” said Librarian of Congress James Billington.

Past recipients of the Gershwin Prize have included Wonder, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney.

Many lyrics and tunes from Bacharach and David are timeless, from “That’s What Friends Are For” and “I Say A Little Prayer” to “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” They produced dozens of top 10 hits that continue to resonate in pop culture. Their music was recorded by legendary singers including The Beatles, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond and their longtime partner Warwick.

“This is music that has filtered through and survived not only their lifetimes, but people will go on discovering their tunes that aren’t as recognizable,” Billington said.

In a tribute concert at the White House, stars including Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall and Stevie Wonder will perform in their honour. The concert will be broadcast May 21 on PBS for the series “In Performance at the White House.” The library hosted a concert Tuesday night featuring Warwick.

Bacharach said the honour may top his Grammys and Academy Awards since it recognizes his life’s work, rather than just a single project.

David, 90, who was the lyricist for so many tunes, is recovering from a stroke and won’t be able to attend.

“It was something that he looked forward to,” Bacharach said. “I feel very badly about that. … It’s a big one for him to miss this one. I know this is as good as it gets.”

Bacharach said he was influenced by a lifetime of experiences. He learned to play piano to please his mother. And the sounds of classical music and tunes from Brazil stuck with him. He also would sneak into Manhattan nightclubs with a fake ID to hear Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker play.

Early in his career Bacharach toured as the accompanist and conductor for Marlene Dietrich, and soon after he as writing R&B hits — two opposites in his life, he said.

Most of his writing with David was defined by capturing the sensual side of music. David would usually write the lyrics first and then pass them to Bacharach to set to music because they had to help tell a story, often for film or stage. They produced film scores for “Alfie,” ”A House is not a Home” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” among others and the musical “Promises, Promises,” which won a Grammy and was revived on Broadway in 2010.

Often they were writing songs for the female voice.

“A lot of them deal with the heart and the lonely heart or heartbreak and taping into the romance of music,” Bacharach said. “I think you’re a sponge in your life. You go through your life and whatever you’re exposed to you take in, it gets into your system.”

Bacharach just finished touring with symphony orchestras in Australia. He said he was surprised by how many dusty hits of the past that audiences still recognize.


Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/about/awardshonors/gershwin/


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