Paul McCartney, pals serenade Obamas at White House

Tue Jul 27, 2010 9:08pm EDT

President Barack Obama smiles next to Paul McCartney at the White House in Washington June 2, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Barack Obama smiles next to Paul McCartney at the White House in Washington June 2, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque


Power celebs

The most powerful celebrities as ranked by Forbes.  Slideshow 

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - 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.

(please visit our entertainment blog via or on

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (2)
Pollydolly wrote:
I wonder if Cecil Taylor will ever again perform in such a public forum

Jul 28, 2010 3:57am EDT  --  Report as abuse
misterliu wrote:
McCartney is easily one of the most gifted song writers of the century. If Barry was half as gifted at job as Paul is at his, we’d really have something.

Jul 28, 2010 6:20pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.