"A storyteller of the highest order" will receive Gershwin Prize in November
James H. Billington of the Librarian of Congress has announced Billy Joel as the next recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Joel ranks as one of the most popular recording artists and respected entertainers in the world. His piano-fueled narratives take listeners into the relatable and deeply personal moments of life, mirroring his own goal of writing songs that "meant something during the time in which I lived ... and transcended that time."
"Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," "The Entertainer," "Piano Man," "Big Shot," "New York State of Mind," "You May Be Right," "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," "Allentown," "Uptown Girl" and "The Downeaster 'Alexa' " are among many other classics in a rich and deep catalog of songs that have acted as personal and cultural touchstones for millions of people.
Joel will receive the prize in Washington, D.C., in November, and be feted with a series of events, including an honoree's luncheon and musical performances. The Gershwin Prize honors a living musical artist's lifetime achievement in promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations. Previous recipients are Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David, and Carole King.
"Billy Joel is a storyteller of the highest order," Billington said. "There is an intimacy to his songwriting that bridges the gap between the listener and the worlds he shares through music. When you listen to a Billy Joel song, you know about the people and the place and what happened there. And while there may be pain, despair and loss, there is ultimately a resilience to it that makes you want to go to these places again and again.
"Importantly, as with any good storyteller, the recognition experienced in a Billy Joel song is not simply because these are songs we have heard so many times, but because we see something of ourselves in them."
Joel said, "The great composer, George Gershwin, has been a personal inspiration to me throughout my career. And the Library's decision to include me among those songwriters who have been past recipients is a milestone for me."
With a career spanning 50 years in the entertainment industry, Joel is the sixth top-selling artist of all time and the third top-selling solo artist of all time, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
His multiple Grammy wins include Song of the Year ("Just the Way You Are," 1978), Record of the Year ("Just the Way You Are," 1978), Album of the Year ("52nd Street," 1979), and back-to-back wins for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male, for two of his 13 multiplatinum albums, "52nd Street" and "Glass Houses" in 1979 and 1980, respectively. Among other best-known songs are "She's Always a Woman," "Only the Good Die Young," "My Life," "Honesty," "She's Got a Way," "Tell Her About It," "An Innocent Man," "You're Only Human (Second Wind)," "A Matter of Trust," "Captain Jack" and "The River of Dreams."
In December, Madison Square Garden announced Joel as its first-ever music franchise. Joining the ranks of the Garden's other original franchises, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer kicked off monthly performances Jan. 27. The monthly shows are sold out through November.
Joel's life and work has reflected his abiding interest in history. In 1987, he accepted an invitation from the former Soviet Union to perform there, becoming the first American pop star to bring a full rock production to the Soviet Union. In a recently released documentary about the two-week tour, "A Matter of Trust - The Bridge to Russia," he said he decided to go, in part, because, "I wanted to have an answer when my daughter said, 'Dad, what did you do during the Cold War?' "
Joel has had 33 Top 40 hits and 23 Grammy nominations since signing his first solo recording contract in 1972. In 1990, he was presented with a Grammy Legend Award. Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992, Joel was presented with the Johnny Mercer Award, the organization's highest honor, in 2001. In 1999, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and has received the Recording Industry Association of America Diamond Award, presented for albums that have sold more than 10 million copies. In 2013 he was among those receiving 36th Annual Kennedy Center Honors.
In 2010 Joel released "The Last Play at Shea." The intersecting histories of a city, a team and a music legend are examined in a documentary feature film that charts both the ups and downs of the New York Mets and the life and career the Long Island native - the last performer to play Shea Stadium before its demolition in 2008.
New York's quintessential son, "The Piano Man" performed six songs at the historic "12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief," joining other music greats to raise awareness and money to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy. The show, which included tributes to first responders and those affected by the storm, was broadcast to an estimated 2 billion viewers and raised $32 million in funds before anyone took the stage. Joel, who is proud of his personal connection to Long Island and the tri-state area impacted by the storm, told the audience, "We're going to get through all this. This is New York and New Jersey and Long Island, and we're just too mean to lay down and die."
Joel was honored by Steinway & Sons with a painted portrait that hangs in Steinway Hall in Manhattan. Joel, who has been a Steinway artist for almost 20 years, is the first non-classical pianist to be immortalized in the Steinway Hall collection. His portrait hangs alongside those of legendary musicians including Sergei Rachmaninoff, Franz Liszt, Arthur Rubinstein and Ignace Paderewski. The portrait of Joel, painted by artist and musician Paul Wyse, represents one of only two living artists to be inducted into the collection, the other being Leon Fleisher.
"Movin' Out," a Broadway musical based on Joel's music - choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp - was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and took home two, including Best Orchestrations and Best Choreography.
Joel has earned three Awards For Cable Excellence and has received numerous ASCAP and BMI awards, including the ASCAP Founders Award, the BMI Career Achievement Award and, in 1994, the Billboard Century Award. Among his many other awards and honors, Joel has been given a Doctor of Humane Letters from Fairfield University (1991), an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music (1993), an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Hofstra University (1997) and a Doctor of Music degree from Southampton College.
Joel has donated his time and resources to a variety of charitable causes outside the realm of his musical career. A longtime advocate for music education, he first began holding "master class" sessions on college campuses more than 20 years ago, giving sessions at colleges across the country and around the world. In addition, he has held classes as a benefit for the STAR Foundation (Standing for Truth About Radiation) and to establish the Rosalind Joel Scholarship for the Performing Arts at City College in New York City.
For his accomplishments as a musician and as a humanitarian, Joel was honored as the 2002 MusiCares Person Of The Year by the MusiCares Foundation and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song honors living musical artists whose lifetime contributions in the field of popular song exemplify the standard of excellence associated with George and Ira Gershwin.
In making the selection for the prize, the Librarian of Congress consulted leading members of the music and entertainment communities, as well as curators from the Library's Music Division, its American Folklife Center and its Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.
The Gershwin name is used in connection with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song courtesy of the families of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin.