In a ceremony hosted by actor Kevin Spacey, Billy Joel was honored with the 2015 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, which is customarily awarded to musical artists who “exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins” throughout their careers. In addition to Billy, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Carole King have all received the honor since it was established in 2007, reports Newsweek.
Joel started out on his path to musical success at a church in his hometown of Hicksville, New York, where he had played with a band as the pianist.
“I thought, This is really cool. I’d like to do this, but you know, I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills,” Billy said, reminiscing that the priest paid each band member $15 at the end of his first night. “And I thought—I hadn’t even thought of this—You mean, you get paid for doing this? I was just doing it for fun.”
Mr. Joel spent time recalling his beginnings and the struggles of working on an oyster boat, until his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, was released in 1971. Billy did not find success until his second album, Piano Man, was released two years later with the hit single of the same name that made Billy Joel a household name.
The ensuing career that Mr. Joel pursued produced 33 top 40 hits, 23 Grammy nominations with six wins, and a Tony Award. Additionally, Billy has received honors from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Billboard, the Kennedy Center, and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
Musical performances honoring Billy Joel’s music included “The Longest Time,” by Boys II Men, Josh Groban singing “She’s Always A Woman,” and John Mellencamp’s rendition of “Allentown.” The Washington Post states that a four-song set was performed by Joel himself midway through the ceremony. The entire event was hosted by Kevin Spacey, dressed in formal attire and displaying a somber demeanor, which set the tone for the tribute and award presentation, at least until the very end. The closing of the ceremony concluded with a free-for-all version of “Piano Man,” in which Mr. Spacey’s harmonica accompanies the rest of the ensemble.
The show was pre-recorded at the DAR Hall on November 19, 2014, but aired this evening, January 2. For those who missed the entire program honoring Billy Joel, clips and previews can be viewed on the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize page.
Recently, Billy Joel made more headlines with his 65th concert, which was performed at Madison Square Garden.