Paul McCartney is honoured by President Obama at the White House

Sir Paul McCartney gave a special performance at the White House in front of US president Barack Obama. The president said McCartney had “helped to lay the soundtrack for an entire generation”, as he presented the performer with the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, awarded by the Library of Congress.

McCartney performed a number of songs at the 90-minute event, including the Beatles song ‘Michelle’, during which he sang “I love you, I love you, I love you” to Michelle Obama. Afterwards he joked that he might be “the first guy ever to be punched out by a president”.

The concert also featured performers including Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Herbie Hancock, The Jonas Brothers, Faith Hill and Emmylou Harris. The evening ended with McCartney being joined on stage by the entire First Family for a rendition of ‘Hey Jude’.

Concert setlist

‘Got To Get You Into My Life’
‘Ebony And Ivory’
‘Eleanor Rigby’
‘Let It Be’
‘Hey Jude’

By its very definition pop music is fleeting. Rarely is it composed with an eye toward standing the test of time, and that’s what makes Paul’s career so legendary.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly half a century since four lads from Liverpool first landed on our shores, and changed everything overnight.

President Barack Obama

The Gershwin Prize – Washington’s highest music award – is named after song-writing brothers George and Ira Gershwin, whose collections are housed at the library. This is McCartney’s first major lifetime achievement award from the US government.

Librarian of Congress James Billington said McCartney had made an impact beyond music – “symbolising and humanising the global soundscape” – and with his activism around the world.

The following report was filed by White House pool reporter Christina Bellantoni. The acronyms POTUS/FLOTUS represent the President of the United States and the First Lady.

Event basics: Sir Paul McCartney was awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song during a star-studded ceremony in the White House East Room. President Obama and his family sat in the first row, surrounded by politicians and big names in music.

News, sort of: Obama mentioned “difficult time” for the Gulf Coast, saying that his thoughts are with friends in an area “so rich in musical heritage.” He said it is “herartbreaking” but said the group in the room is committed to help and see the community “made whole again.” He said “Part of what gets us through tough times is music” and that there’s always a kernel of ourselves “that sings even when times are hard.”

Another bit: At the very close of the event after Obama had left the room, McCartney took the mic again and thanked the Library of Congress again for the award. He then said, “After the last eight years, it’s great to have a president who knows what a library is.”

Other than that as all color, with highlights being of course the music, McCartney’s choice of song “Michelle” and some POTUS-FLOTUS hand-holding. Another highlight, during “Hey Jude” at the finale and for the “Na, na, na, na, na, na, na” chorus, McCartney got everyone, including the entire First Family on the stage. They clapped and everyone sang along as he sat himself at the piano.

I’ve got most of the songs and performers in the report below, but it was hard to see many of the guests since most of the viewing was done on the screen in the briefing room. Pool was led into East Room about 2/3 into the event for Obama’s remarks and one song.

At 7:38 p.m., the president and first lady joined the Obama daughters to sit in the front row. Michelle Obama sat to the president’s left, and they frequently whispered to one another.

McCartney entered the room after the president, grabbed a guitar and took the stage, declaring, “Welcome to the White House,” and then performing “‘Got To Get You Into My Life’.” He wore a blue jacket with no tie. When he finished, he joined the president in the front row and sat to his right. They also chatted back and forth most of the evening.

WH Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel also was in the front row, toward the right near Stevie Wonder. Also spotted: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Marian Robinson, Sen. Dick Durbin. Will send list of attendees as provided by the White House in second report.

FLOTUS wore a short frock that is a color called “blush” and appeared to be made of satin. The designer is Byron Lars, a male designer who bills himself as making “twisted American classics.” The dress had a cowl-necked collar and her belt was adorned with large jewels. As she sat, you could see a little pink petticoat peeking out over her knee.

Christina Bellantoni
White House reporter
Last updated: 20 July 2021
Paul McCartney live: Foro Sol, Mexico City
Paul McCartney live: RDS Arena, Dublin
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