The following is a guest post by Senior Music Specialist Ray White.
Among the great joys of our work in the Music Division of the Library of Congress are the occasions when distinguished creators from the world of the performing arts visit us and have the opportunity to examine first-hand the original manuscripts that document the creativity of previous generations. Such was the case in June 2018 when Tony Bennett visited the Library.
This wasn’t Tony Bennett’s first visit to the Library—he had been here in November of 2017 when he came to Washington to receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. At that time, he had been introduced to a selection of treasures from across several Library divisions. But his visit the following summer allowed him to look with us more closely at our Gershwin treasures—beginning with those on exhibit in our Gershwin Gallery—in the company of Dick Golden, jazz historian and broadcaster, and a friend of Bennett’s for more than 40 years.
The Gershwin Gallery in the Library’s historic Thomas Jefferson Building is an exhibition space where visitors can see materials that document the lives and careers of George and Ira Gershwin—including original music manuscripts and lyric sheets, letters, photographs, and other materials. Particularly notable for Tony Bennett—who is widely recognized as a gifted painter as well as a legendary musician—were the paintings on display: self-portrait oil paintings by both George and Ira Gershwin, and George’s oil portrait of songwriter Jerome Kern.
And after touring the Gershwin Gallery, Bennett and Golden had a closer look at additional materials selected from the Library’s George and Ira Gershwin Collection. The timing of their visit was perfect. Tony Bennett and Diana Krall and the Bill Charlap Trio had recently recorded an album of fourteen Gershwin tunes—ten duets and two solo cuts by each artist; the album, titled “Love Is Here to Stay,” would be released for following September. With that in mind, colleague Janet McKinney, an Archivist in the Music Division’s Acquisition and Processing Section, and I took as our point of departure the song list for the album and brought out original music manuscripts and lyric sheets that documented the creation of many of the cuts from the album. Tony Bennett and Dick Golden were joined by Susan Vita, Chief of the Music Division, for the display of these treasures.
We had the great pleasure of observing first-hand not only Tony Bennett’s enthusiasm for the original manuscripts, sheet music, and photographs on display, but we were also able to enjoy Bennett’s recollections of anecdotes about many of the songs. It was an afternoon we will never forget. After Tony Bennett left the Library, we remarked to ourselves what a totally amazing experience it was to share the Library’s Gershwin treasures with the legendary Tony Bennett—then ninety-one years young. We recalled his words from the previous year when he had been announced as the 2017 Gershwin Prize honoree: “The Gershwins created some of our most beautiful music. Their songs had gorgeous poetry and wonderful musicality. Their music is timeless and will live forever.” We thought, on that June afternoon, and we still think now, that Tony Bennett’s artistry is, not unlike George and Ira Gershwin’s songs themselves, still very much “Here to Stay.”
Check out the Library of Congress main blog, featuring a memorial video of Tony Bennett.