Billy Joel will receive the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, which, each year, honors the career of one musician and their dedication to “promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations.”
“The great composer, George Gershwin, has been a personal inspiration to me throughout my career,” Joel said in a statement. “And the Library’s decision to include me among those songwriters who have been past recipients is a milestone for me.” Joel will receive the award in Washington D.C. this November, and will be honored with a number of events, including a luncheon and musical performance.
Over his 50-year career, Joel has penned countless hits and racked up plenty of Grammy awards, honing his piano-playing skills and knack for melody and poignant storytelling along the way. “There is an intimacy to his songwriting that bridges the gap between the listener and the worlds he shares through music,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “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.”
Previous recipients of the Gershwin Prize include Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David. Last year, Carole King became the first woman to receive the honor.
While the Gershwin Prize marks yet another huge achievement for Joel, the piano man himself has no intention of slowing down any time soon. Earlier this year, he launched a one-of-a-kind residency at Madison Square Garden, promising to play the arena once a month for the indefinite future; and back in May, he released his famous 1987 performance in the Soviet Union as a CD/DVD set, A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia.
During a recent chat with Rolling Stone, Joel discussed ideas for upcoming live shows — including concerts that mixed performances of entire albums with various rarities — and promised he had no plans to retire anytime soon. “I did an interview, I think with an Australian newspaper,” Joel recalled. “I said I’d consider retiring if I didn’t think I could do it well anymore. I never said I intended to retire. I never said, ‘I’m gonna hang it up.’ I was just kind of wondering, ‘Gee, I wonder what happens when a musician gets to a point where he realizes he’s not as good as he used to be?’ That turned into ‘Billy Joel May Retire After His Next Gigs.’ I just want to put those rumors to rest because people keep asking me if I’m going to retire. . . I just love the game too much to not play it well.”