By now, for Stevie Wonder, a meeting with President Barack Obama is really no big deal: the multiple Grammy-winning musician was a fixture at Obama's campaign events, played on the night the future president accepted his party's nomination in Denver, and appeared at the open-air concert on the National Mall two days before the inauguration.
But today at the White House, the centre of attention was Wonder, not Obama, as the president prepared to present the singer-songwriter with the Library of Congress's prestigious George Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Wonder, 58, is due to receive the lifetime achievement award at an exclusive concert tonight in the East Room, also featuring performances by Tony Bennett, India.Arie, and Paul Simon, who won the prize the first time it was awarded in 2007.
"It's a wonderful surprise to have him bestow this [prize] on me, and a wonderful honour," Wonder told USA Today. However helpful Wonder's support on the campaign trail may have been, though, the prize is not the president's gift: it is awarded by the Librarian of Congress, James Billington, advised by a board of musicians and industry experts.
The self-taught pianist marked the occasion in Washington on Monday night with a world premiere of Sketches of a Life, a classical composition he wrote between 1976 and 1994, arranged for two pianos, harmonica, and a 21-piece chamber orchestra. It was inspired by his mother, he told reporters.
"I can hear her voice, I can hear her joy, I can hear my cry of missing her," he said. "Those cries are really tears of joy, knowing that we are closer than ever to becoming a united people in the United States."