Billy Joel Honored With 2014 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song; Concert to Air 1/2 on PBS
The Library of Congress is celebrating Billy Joel's 50-year career and his selection as the 2014 recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in the nation's capital with a series of events, culminating in a star-studded concert tonight.
The nation's lawmakers also recognized Joel's creative genius at a luncheon yesterday. Speaking to a packed room of well-wishers, Joel said his mother, who passed away this year, "would have gotten such a kick out of this."
He also recalled how the legacy of George and Ira Gershwin -- the legendary American songwriting team -- inspired him when he performed in the former Soviet Union in 1987. "Knowing I was there with George was a big help," he said. Joel became the first American pop star to bring a full rock production to the Soviet Union. His two-week tour was released as a documentary.
"When we first began to establish the Library's Gershwin Prize, it was with the vision that this award be bestowed upon artists who have created a lifetime of remarkable works that can be recognized and added to America's national cultural patrimony," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "Billy Joel is a true example of this vision for the Library's Gershwin Prize."
"The Gershwin Prize recognizes and celebrates the link between classic American song and contemporary music," said celebrated entertainer Michael Feinstein who also served as master of ceremonies at the luncheon and will present a tribute to the legacy of George and Ira Gershwin at the concert. "Art is a continuum, and the choice of Billy Joel as this year's recipient is an eloquent demonstration of how new music is born from the inspiration of what came before."
Described by Billington as "a storyteller of the highest order," Joel ranks as one of the most popular recording artists and respected entertainers in the world. His litany of hits are etched in the American memory -- "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'" and "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant."
Some of the top performers in the world are honoring Joel and his repertoire of memorable classics at DAR Constitution Hall. The concert will feature performances by Tony Bennett, Boyz II Men, Gavin DeGraw, Josh Groban, Natalie Maines, John Mellencamp and LeAnn Rimes. The program will also include a special performance by Kevin Spacey and an opening number from Twyla Tharp's Tony Award-winning "Movin'Out." The Broadway musical is a Tony Award-winning extravaganza based on Joel's music and choreographed-directed by Twyla Tharp. In addition, Joel will perform some of his favorite tunes.
"We are thrilled to be a part of this year's Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song tribute concert, honoring Billy Joel," said the members of Boyz II Men. "He is truly one of the most talented musicians of our time, and we look forward to celebrating his contributions to popular music."
During the evening's event, Joel will be presented with the prize by the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House of Representatives Chairman of the Committee on House Administration Candice S. Miller, U.S. House of Representatives Chairman on the Joint Committee on the Library Gregg Harper and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The concert, which will be taped by WETA Washington, D.C., will air on PBS stations nationwide at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, Jan. 2 (check local listings), as part of PBS Arts. The program also will be broadcast at a later date via the American Forces Network at U.S. Department of Defense locations around the world. "Billy Joel: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize" is a production of WETA Washington, D.C., in association with Bounce, a division of AEG.
The executive producers of the program are Dalton Delan and David S. Thompson for WETA Washington, D.C. and Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. Sponsors for tonight's tribute concert are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, WETA, United Airlines, AARP, The Anne Ray Charitable Trust, The James Madison Council and The Leonore and Ira Gershwin Foundation. Additional support provided by Buffy Cafritz and Marjorie Fisher.
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.
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 multi-platinum 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 2013, 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. He will extend his recording-breaking series of performances into 2015.
About Billy Joel - Billy 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 of Long Island native Billy Joel, the last performer to play Shea Stadium before its demolition in 2008.
New York's quintessential son, Joel 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. Billy, 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, Ignace Paderewski and more. The portrait of Joel, painted by artist and musician Paul Wyse, is one of only two living artists to be inducted into the collection, the other being Leon Fleisher.
Joel has earned three Awards for Cable Excellence and has received numerous ASCAP and BMI awards, including the ASCAP Founders Award and the BMI Career Achievement Award and, in 1994, was given 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.
About the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song - 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, by promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations.
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. GERSHWIN is a registered trademark of Gershwin Enterprises.