WASHINGTON (Reuters Life!) - President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle honored Stevie Wonder with an award and a White House concert on Wednesday, crediting the Motown legend’s music for helping to bring them together.
The multi-Grammy winning soul singer was presented the Library of Congress’ second annual Gershwin Prize for Popular Song at the White House event in recognition of his music’s effect on culture and its ability to unite people.
He was named the prize’s recipient in September, 2008.
“We honor a man whose music and lyrics I fell in love with when I was a litte girl,” Michelle Obama said. “The first album I ever bought was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Talking Book.’”
“Years later when I discovered what Stevie meant when he sang about love, Barack and I chose the song ‘You and I’ as our wedding song,” she added.
The president also noted Wonder’s influence on his own life, praising his music’s universal appeal.
“I think it’s fair to say that had I not been a Stevie Wonder fan, Michelle might not have dated me,” Obama said.
“And I’m not alone,” he added. “Millions of people around the world have found similar comfort and joy in Stevie’s music and its unique capacity to find hope in struggle and humanity in our common hardships.”
Guests and performers at the concert included soul singer India Arie, country artist Martina McBride, hip hop artist will.i.am and gospel duo Mary Mary, which Obama said reflected Wonder’s own cross-genre music style.
“He’s created a style that is at once uniquely American, uniquely his own and yet somehow universal,” the president said.
Wonder, who was born in Saginaw, Michigan, became blind shortly after birth but learned to play the harmonica, piano and drums by age 9.
At the age of 12, after moving to Detroit, he was given a recording contract by Motown Records, going on to deliver 32 No. 1 R&B and pop singles, garner 25 Grammy Awards and sell more than 100 million records.
Wonder, whose hits include “Superstition,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and “My Cherie Amour,” embarked on a concert tour last year that he said he hoped would spread a message of unity among all religions and races.
The singer, who is a staunch Obama supporter, has been politically active over the years, advocating in 1983 for Martin Luther King Day to become a national U.S. holiday.
At the concert, Wonder said Obama’s election made him believe that his children could “live that dream that Dr. King talked about so long ago.”
The chart-topping singer also spoke of a possibility for world peace, if people could set aside hatred for love.
“I’m looking forward to you doing that so in my lifetime I can write some more songs about love, about unity,” Wonder said. “And through those songs of passion, maybe I’ll be a part of creating some more of those babies,” he joked.
The Gershwin Prize was set up to commemorate George and Ira Gershwin, the American songwriting team whose manuscript collections reside in the Library of Congress.
It honours musicians for a lifetime of contributions to the field of popular music that helped bring diverse listeners together and fostered mutual understanding.
The 2007 prize was awarded to Paul Simon.
Editing by Miral Fahmy