WASHINGTON — When Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others took to the stage at DAR Constitution Hall to present the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song to Tony Bennett, he ran on stage — why just walk when you’re 91 and still performing?
“I can’t even describe how I feel,” Bennett said, as he accepted the annual award given by the Library of Congress. The presentation is set to air on PBS on Jan. 12.
“I’ve performed all over the world, but this is the best I’ve ever felt on stage,” he said.
For over an hour, Bennett was serenaded with some of his standards by Stevie Wonder, Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Vanessa Williams, Savion Glover, Michael Feinstein, Chris Botti, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Gloria Estefan, Lukas Nelson and We McDonald. McDonald, 18, drew a standing ovation as she sang “For Once in My Life,” and Estefan and Wonder did a duet of “What a Wonderful World.” Bruce Willis emceed.
Many members of Congress, in the midst of a bitter debate over tax reform, were in the audience, but the evening was kept apolitical.
Bennett sang “They All Laughed,” and then admitted to the audience, “I did not plan anything. I did not even know I was performing tonight.”
It made no difference, as he went into “Our Love Is Here to Stay” and “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”
Bennett is a longtime friend of Pelosi (he gave her a big hug on stage) and the singer performed for Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign. As demonstrated during the evening, Bennett also has a long history of supporting social justice causes, marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s and, more recently, taking an outspoken stance on the need for gun control. But he told reporters beforehand that he’ll probably perform for President Donald Trump at some point, as he has for previous administrations.
The national mood may be confusion and discord, but Bennett was having none of it on this evening.
“I just know I love the United States of America,” Bennett said from the stage, adding, “We are the best country in the world.” You knew he meant it.