Billy Joel Earns Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song

Billy Joel
Billy Joel, Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images Entertainment/Thinkstock

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced Tuesday that Sag Harbor resident Billy Joel has been tapped as the next recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Joel, author and composer of some of the most well known and beloved songs in the world, will receive the Prize in Washington, D.C., in November. A series of events will coincide with the honor, 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. Hamptonites Paul Simon and Paul McCartney, as well as Stevie Wonder, songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David, and Carole King have also earned the Prize.

“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.” The Librarian of Congress added, “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’s 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.

Hearing the news of his upcoming award, 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 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, as long as there is demand, starting January 27, 2014. The monthly shows are sold out through November, when he is due to receive the Gershwin Prize.

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