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Lionel Richie receives Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize

Lionel Richie called for unity and compassion in a world “in turmoil” as he accepted the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song at a tribute concert in Washington on Wednesday night. 

“We’re a family and not a party — we’re a family,” Richie said in his acceptance speech. 

Actor and comedian Anthony Anderson, the night’s host, said in his opening, “It’s hard to think of an artist who’s had such an eclectic and wide-ranging fanbase for so long. Black, white. Republican or Democrat.”  

“In fact, maybe we should send Lionel to Congress,” Anderson added.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Brian Steil (R-Wisc.) and Teresa Fernandez (D-N.M.) joined Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden on stage to welcome Richie and present the award. 

“It humbles me to think that a little kid from Tuskegee, Alabama, can now be walking down the halls of Congress, the Library of Congress,” Richie told reporters before the show. 

At the close of the show, Richie sang his 1985 hit “We Are the World,” a piece Hayden called “one of the most important pop songs in history.”

The song’s message of togetherness is “still as relevant today” in the face of ongoing crises, Richie said, such as Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.  

The tribute concert at Constitution Hall featured a lineup of musical performances from R&B group Boyz II Men, singers Miguel and Andra Day, gospel singer Yolanda Adams, 2019’s Gershwin honoree Gloria Estefan and country artists Chris Stapleton and Luke Bryan.  

“If I had a nickel for every time I played this song driving through the hood, I could’ve helped pay for the Build Back Better Bill. Is it too soon for Build Back Better jokes?” Anderson joked about “Say You, Say Me,” to the audience, an invite-only crowd of celebs and lawmakers. “Nancy Pelosi, you in the building? Is it too soon?” 

The nearly full-house event also served as a marker of D.C.’s return to an in-person social scene, though most attendees were masked.

With a shift toward normal, “Washington can become Washington again and really operate at its efficiency level to run the country properly,” Bryan said before the show.  

“After the past two years, it has been wonderful that music can bring us back together,” Hayden said.  

The Gershwin Prize concert is set to air on PBS at 9 p.m. on May 17. 

Tags Gershwin Prize Joyce Beatty Library of Congress Lionel Richie Nancy Pelosi Shelley Moore Capito We Are the World

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