Library Of Congress Honors Stevie Wonder

The Library of Congress commissioned Stevie Wonder to write a classical composition and it will be performed tonight for the first time. Also this week, Wonder will be awarded the Gershwin Award for Lifetime Achievement.

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(Soundbite of song, "Everybody Say Yeah")

Mr. STEVIE WONDER (Musician): (Singing) Everybody say yeah.

Unidentified Group: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) Say yeah.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A man with dozens of top-10 hits is trying something very different.

(Soundbite of song, "Everybody Say Yeah")

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) Yeah.

Unidentified Group: Yeah.

INSKEEP: It's not R & B, not rock, not soul. Instead, the musician who began his career as Little Stevie Wonder will leave the harmonica and keyboards behind and focus on strings, woodwinds and percussion. Tonight, a chamber orchestra will premiere a new work by Stevie Wonder. It's a classical composition, and he is serious about calling it a premiere. We couldn't even get our hands on the music. The Library of Congress commissioned the piece, and it will be performed there tonight to an invitation-only crowd in Washington, D.C.

(Soundbite of song, "Boogie on Reggae Woman")

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) I like to see you boogey right across the floor.

INSKEEP: This week, the man born Stevland Hardaway Judkins also receives the Gershwin Prize for popular song. President Obama hands that off. The Librarian of Congress James Billington says this honor goes to an artist whose music caught the spirit of the country.

Mr. JAMES BILLINGTON (Librarian of Congress): American inventiveness. Walt Whitman wrote "I Hear America Singing." And what he was describing was not just traditional music, but the way in which music was the expression of an inventive people.

(Soundbite of song, "Living for the City")

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) A boy is born in hard-time Mississippi, surrounded by four walls that ain't so pretty.

INSKEEP: Stevie Wonder adds this honor to 22 Grammy Awards and an Oscar.

(Soundbite of song, "Living for the City")

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) …to keep him strong, moving in the right direction. Living just enough, just enough for the city. His father works some days for 14 hours. And you can bet he barely makes a dollar. His mother goes to scrub the floors for many…

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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