2014 Gershwin Prize Winner
Billy 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.
Billy 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,” Billington said.
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.
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 notes that 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?'”