Hal David, Burt Bacharach honored in D.C. with Gershwin Prize

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Lyricist Hal David and composer Burt Bacharach were saluted Tuesday night in Washington as recipients of the 2012 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song bestowed by the Library of Congress, the first time the honor has been given to a songwriting team.

The singer most closely associated with the Bacharach-David songbook, Dionne Warwick, sang “This Guy’s in Love With You” and was joined at the event by Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Lyle Lovett, Mike Myers and other performers who sang songs David and Bacharach wrote together during their long collaboration from the late 1950s into the 1970s.


Wonder sang “Alfie” and “Make It Easy,” Krall took “The Look of Love,” Crow gave her rendition of “Walk On By,” Lovett did “Always Something There to Remind Me” and Myers sang “What’s New Pussycat” in recognition of the important role Bacharach and David’s music played in his “Austin Powers” films, all three of which included a cameo appearance by Bacharach.

The ceremony was videotaped and will be aired on PBS stations premiering May 21. Other performers included Arturo Sandoval, Michael Feinstein, Rumer and Shelea.

Bacharach, 83, was on hand for the ceremony; David, 90, is recuperating from a recent illness and was unable to attend. Bacharach said winning the Gershwin Prize surpassed receiving an Oscar.

Winning an Academy Award, he said, gives you a “spike up your spine that is an unbelievable feeling. But that’s for a score or a song. But it’s one thing. This is the whole conglomeration of my work that I’ve done. So it is the best of all awards possible. I mean that with all my heart.”

Feinstein told the crowd of lyricist Ira Gershwin’s fondness for the music of Bacharach and David.

“Ira loved the fact that Bacharach and David were continuing a tradition of finding fresh ways to express the feelings of the heart not only lyrically but musically,” said Feinstein, who performed “Close to You.” “He admired that because these were songs that he thought were accessible.”

“I have followed you since I was a little boy. The chord structures inspired me so much, the words, the lyrics. This song is an example of my appreciation,” Wonder said introducing his performance of “Alfie.”


When Wonder was young, he would sing their tunes to girls he was pursuing. He recalled singing “Make it Easy on Yourself” to one in particular.

“She quit me for another guy because he could take her to the movies at a particular time, and I didn’t feel like watching movies that night,” he quipped.

Previous recipients of the Library of Congress’ recently instituted Gershwin Prize include Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. The prize ‘celebrates the work of an artist whose career reflects lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding,’ according to the Library’s website.

Update at 5:38 p.m.: Librarian of Congress James H. Billington lauded the pair’s compositions for helping ‘launch the careers of many of our nation’s most celebrated performers, and they continue to be played on iPods, radio, television, in movies, and performed in cabarets and on the Broadway stage.’ He added that the Bacharach-David songbook constitutes ‘without question one of the richest and most recognizable multi-generational playlists known to the world. Their creative talents have inspired songwriters for more than five decades, and their legacy is much in the tradition of George and Ira Gershwin, for whom this award is named.’

The advisory committee for the 2012 award consisted of the three previous winners as well as Elvis Costello, Lee Ann Womack, Rickey Minor and Bobette Dudley.


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-- Randy Lewis

Photos, from top: Stevie Wonder saluting Hal David and Burt Bacharach in Washington; Dionne Warwick at Tuesday’s ceremony for the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Credits: Abby Brack Lewis / Library of Congress Photos.