Singer-songwriter Carole King, performs during an event to honour her with the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, at the Library of Congress. —AP Photo
WASHINGTON: Carole King isn't done with music - not yet anyway.
The 71-year-old singer-songwriter known for such hits as "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "You've Got a Friend" was awarded the nation's highest prize for popular music in a concert on Tuesday. She received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song at the Library of Congress and will be honoured Wednesday by President Barack Obama at the White House
King told The Associated Press it's a tremendous honor to be recognised at such an historic place with a place in history that she never would have expected. King is the first woman to receive the Gershwin Prize. Previous honourees include Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon.
"It is yet another of the many important messages to young women that women matter, women make a difference," King said. "That popular music is recognised by the Library of Congress as being worthy of a place in history is especially significant to me."
A concert in King's honor on Wednesday at the White House will include performances by Gloria Estefan, Billy Joel, Jesse McCartney, Emeli Sande, James Taylor and Trisha Yearwood. It will be broadcast May 28 on PBS. Last year, King hinted that she would like to retire from music as her memoir, "A Natural Woman," began to sell. But since then, she's gone on tour in Australia and plans to sing at a benefit concert to support victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Now she plans to introduce a new song during the Gershwin Prize concert that she wrote with Hal David, entitled "I Believe in Loving You". She told the AP she plans to release it as a single next month as a tribute to David, who won the prize and died last year.
"I'm hoping that this will become a song that people will want to play at their weddings," she said. "It's so romantic. Hal is such a great writer, and his words live on forever."
King said she's staying too busy to retire.
This month she received an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music along with Willie Nelson and Annie Lennox. There's even a Broadway musical in the works based on King's life.
"I still feel that it would be lovely to retire, but that time is not yet here apparently," she said.
King got her start in music from the time she could barely reach the piano growing up in Brooklyn, constantly asking her mother, "what's that note?"
The piano, she said, brought a "magical connection" for her innate interest in music. She was hooked from the start, she said.
"I think I was drawn to it and it was drawn to me. Whatever it was, it was not something I tried to manipulate," King said. "The only thing I did do was seek to have the songs heard."
King wrote her first No. 1 hit at age 17 with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" for the Shirelles with her then-husband Gerry Goffin. Her breakout 1971 album "Tapestry" remains one of the best-selling records of all time. It is the first female solo album to reach Diamond status, surpassing 10 million copies sold. The album included No. 1 hits "It's Too Late" and "I Feel the Earth Move, as well as "You've Got a Friend" recorded by James Taylor.
Hundreds of artists have recorded her songs, including The Beatles, Mary J. Blige, Cher, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand and many others.
That's in part what makes King so remarkable, said Librarian of Congress James Billington.
"When the Beatles got off the plane, the first person they wanted to meet was Carole King when they first came to America," he said. "She was kind of a phenomenon among the performers themselves. That's an important endorsement."
In 1990, King and Goffin were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Singer Colbie Caillat, who performed "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" in King's honor on Tuesday night, told the AP she grew up listening to King's records, especially "Tapestry", at home with her parents. She said she most admires the honesty in King's music and the simple chords that allow melodies and vocals to soar.
"When I think of her, my heart just has a warm spot because her songs just inspire me to be better as a songwriter and to be genuine and honest and open in my lyrics and melodies," Caillat said. "With the tone of her voice, she doesn't try too much. She just lets it be what it is."
Producers aim to replay King's rise to fame next year on Broadway with "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical." But King is keeping her distance. Her daughter and manager, Sherry Kondor, is shepherding the project. King said she went to a reading for the production but couldn't stay through the end. It was just too painful.
The story focuses on the 1960s when King was married to Goffin and her rise to become a musical icon, as well as their personal difficulties along the way.
"I love the idea. I support it. I think it's a wonderful story in many ways that will have resonance for people," she said. "Maybe there are things people can learn from my mistakes and also what I did right."