Sag Harbor’s Billy Joel was presented with Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts honors earlier this month in Washington, D.C., and this Sunday the public will have the chance to see the gala as the event is broadcast on CBS.
The Kennedy Center Honors recognizes performers for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a state dinner on December 7 when the honorees were presented with their medallions. The following day, Joel and the other honorees sat at the performing arts center with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as other artists paid tribute to their careers during the gala.
Obama fêted Joel at the honors reception.
“In a world full of brilliant musicians, there’s only one Piano Man,” Obama said. “The son of a Jewish father who left Germany for America to escape the Nazis, Billy Joel started piano lessons as a boy growing up on Long Island. His father was a classical pianist, so that was Billy’s training to to, until the night he and millions of Americans watched the performance of the Beatles play the Ed Sullivan Show.
“Most people thought, ‘I want to hear more music like that.’ But Billy thought, ‘I want to make my own music like that. From then on, it was all rock ‘n’ roll to him.”
“With lyrics that speak of love and class and failure and success, angry young men and the joy of becoming a father, he’s become one of the most successful musicians in history, selling more than 150 million records.
“Above all, Billy Joel sings about America: About the workers living in Allentown after the factories closed down. About soldiers home from the war, forever changed, bidding ‘Goodnight Saigon.’ Commercial fishermen struggling to make a living in the waters off of Long Island, sailing the Downeaster Alexa. The sights and sounds of that city like no other, which can put anyone in a ‘New York State of Mind.’ And of course, the rag-tag bunch of regulars at the bar where he started out, shouting at him again and again to ‘sing us a song.’
“Billy Joel probably would have been a songwriter no matter where he was born. But we are certainly lucky that he ended up here. And the hardworking folks he’s met and the music that he’s heard across our nation come through in every note and every lyric that he’s written. For an artist whose songs are sung around the world, but which are thoroughly, wonderfully American, we honor Billy Joel.”
Among those who perform a tribute to Joel and his music are Montauk’s Rufus Wainwright. Other 2013 Kennedy Center honorees are Herbie Hancock, Martina Arroyo, Shirley MacLaine and Carlos Santana.
“Billy Joel’s melodies have provided the soundtrack of our lives for over four decades making him one pop music’s most prolific and memorable singers and songwriters,” says Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein.
It’s been a big year for Joel. In addition to being selected by the Kennedy Center, he was named the first artist-in-residence at Madison Square Garden, booked nine MSG concerts already, booked his first show at Hollywood Bowl, sold out his first solo show on Long Island in more than a decade at The Paramount, his daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, released a cover of his classic “Just the Way You Are,” and Glee dedicated an episode to his music.
He gives back too. Just this week it was revealed he donated a $250,000 grand piano to Stony Brook University.
Tune in to CBS December 29 from 9 to 11 p.m.to watch the Kennedy Center Honors.