A Beatle met the President when Sir Paul McCartney performed at the East Room of the White House on Wednesday night.

Accepting the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, McCartney used the occasion to applaud President Barack Obama. “Getting this prize would be good enough,” said McCartney. “But getting it from this President ...” He smiled.

He added that despite “difficult times” for the President, “you have billions of us who are rooting for you.” Then, with the First Lady in the front row, McCartney sang “a song I have been itching to do at the White House,” he said. It was “Michelle.”

A few minutes after the concert, McCartney returned to the microphone, thanking the Library of Congress and adding, “After the last eight years, it's great to have a President who knows what a library is.”

It was not a light-hearted party. McCartney sang reflective songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Let It Be.”

The President praised McCartney but also brought up the catastrophic Gulf Coast oil spill. Mr. Obama spoke about “part of the country this is so rich in musical heritage” and said he was committed to “see to it that their lives and their communities are made whole again.”

McCartney heard praise for his songs — and some performances — from Mr. Obama and from multiple generations of pop, jazz, country and classical musicians. He opened the concert playing the same violin-shaped bass he used with the Beatles in 1964 on “The Ed Sullivan Show”.

Stevie Wonder, who won the Gershwin Award last year, steamed through “We Can Work It Out” — insistently repeating the title before a crowd of politicians — and he later joined McCartney for an earnest duet on “Ebony and Ivory.”

The lineup also included Herbie Hancock, Elvis Costello, the Jonas Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Faith Hill, Corinne Bailey Rae, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, and Jack White of the White Stripes, backed by McCartney's touring band. The show is to be broadcast as a PBS special on July 28.

McCartney, who turns 68 on June 18, is the third winner of the Gershwin Prize, the highest American award for popular song. He is the first recipient who is not an American.

“We stole you,” said Mr. Obama.

In a news conference at the Library of Congress on Monday, McCartney had called the process of song writing a mystery. “You start with a black hole and if you're lucky, a couple hours later there'll be a song waiting there. That mystery, that magic is still the same for me.”

McCartney ended the concert with a song that's ideal for an all-star singalong, “Hey Jude”, with the first family joining in. — New York Times News Service


Paul McCartney is engaged May 7, 2011

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