Los Angeles: Whatever your opinion of President Obama, there`s no question he has spectacularly revived the number and quality of musical performances in the White House.
Look no further than "Paul McCartney: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Performance at the White House," taped early last month and screening on PBS on Wednesday, the fourth "In Performance" show thus far during his young administration.
Yes, Sir Paul is English. But the award is not restricted to U.S. citizens. Named in honor of brothers Ira and George Gershwin, the award is given to a composer or performer whose lifetime work exemplifies the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins. The first one, in 2007, was won by Paul Simon. The second was awarded last year to Stevie Wonder.
McCartney probably needs another award about as much as Jesse James needs another tattoo. However, in clips before the start of the concert in the East Room of the White House, he appears humbled and grateful for the recognition. After those introductory clips, mostly showing the artists meeting one another and rehearsing, the program moves into the actual concert.
One by one, some of today`s top musicians applied their personal style to songs by McCartney -- and, in some cases, also by John Lennon. Performers include Wonder, the Jonas Brothers, Jack White, Faith Hill, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Lang Lang, Dave Grohl, and the duo of Herbie Hancock and Corinne Bailey Rae. There even is a short but hugely entertaining bit of stand-up by Jerry Seinfeld, who related McCartney`s lyrics to the stages of his personal life.
With each additional number, McCartney`s genius as a songwriter grows more evident. In fact, part of that genius is reflected in the fact that his music can be covered in such different styles, each showing new facets of the composition.
There were plenty of highlights: Wonder`s enthusiastic rendition of "We Can Work It Out," Hancock and Rae`s delicate and haunting performance of "Blackbird," Lang Lang`s classical finesse applied to "Celebrations," and Costello`s sweetly sentimental version of "Penny Lane."(Don`t bother looking for McCartney`s dig at former White House occupant George W. Bush: "After the last eight years, it`s great to have a president who knows what a library is," he said. A PBS spokesperson reportedly said the comment occurred after the planned program had concluded and after President Obama left the room.)
In any case, the biggest highlight was the return of all the artists to the stage, along with the first family, for the long chorus that concluded McCartney`s delivery of "Hey Jude." Hearing so many memorable songs performed so brilliantly almost can make you forget all the monumental issues facing White House occupants the rest of the time.