Billy Joel to Receive Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song

Library of Congress

Joel, called "a storyteller of the highest order," will receive the honor in November in Washington, D.C.

Billy Joel will be the next recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, it was announced by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

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Billington said 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.’ ”

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 include Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, Carole King and the songwriting duo of Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David.

“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.”

Added Joel: “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.”

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 and 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. 

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, to continue as long as there is demand, starting on January 27, 2014, and currently sold out through November.

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Joel’s life and work have reflected his abiding interest in history. In 1987, he accepted an invitation from the 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?’ ”