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Remarks at PBS's "Burt Bacharach and Hal David: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song In Performance at the White House"

May 09, 2012

Good evening, everybody. Well, thank you all for joining us tonight to honor a legendary songwriting duo: Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

I want to start by thanking the outstanding artists who are here to pay tribute to Burt and Hal. They have just been extraordinary.

I'd also like to thank Dr. James Billington of the Library of Congress and the outstanding team of producers for their hand in making tonight's wonderful evening possible.

And finally, I want to say a word about someone who is missing tonight. Even though Hal cannot be here with us, this celebration is for him. And we're happy that his lovely wife Eunice David is here to receive his award--this award on his behalf.

The Gershwin Prize is named for one of the great American songwriting duos of all time. And it's fitting that tonight's award is being presented to another.

Burt and Hal first met at Famous Music in the Brill Building in New York. Burt had come a long way from his days of hoping to be a football player--[laughter]--as well as a musical career. And Hal had taken his wordsmithing from the pages of New York newspapers to the frontlines of big band. Soon, the football player and the journalist started writing songs, and they struck gold in 1957 with Marty Robbins singing "The Story of My Life."

What began as an occasional collaboration in the late fifties quickly became a partnership that produced dozens of Top 40 hits. There was even a span of 10 years during the 1960s and seventies when a week rarely went by without one of their songs being on the Billboard charts.

Burt and Hal racked up Grammys and Oscars and have been honored by numerous lifetime achievement awards. And today, more than 55 years after their first songs hit the airwaves, these guys have still got it. Alicia Keys and John Legend are recording their songs. Burt is appearing on "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars." [Laughter] And in 2004, Burt and Hal worked with Twista, Kanye West, and Jamie Foxx to get back to number one with a slow jam medley. So these guys can work with anybody. [Laughter]

Like the Gershwin brothers, Burt and Hal have never been limited to one genre or even one generation. Burt once said that all he looks for in writing a good melody is "to write something that I like." Hal agreed, saying, "We just tried to write with as much integrity as we could." Above all, they stayed true to themselves. And with an unmistakable authenticity, they captured the emotions of our daily lives: the good times, the bad times, and everything in between. And they've lived their lives on their own terms, and they've taught Americans of all ages to embrace their individual stories, even as we move forward together.

So tonight, on behalf of a grateful nation, it is my privilege to present the Nation's highest prize for popular music to two kings of songwriting, Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Note: The President spoke at 8:45 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to musician Carl T. "Twista" Mitchell.

Barack Obama, Remarks at PBS's "Burt Bacharach and Hal David: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song In Performance at the White House" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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