Belfast Telegraph

Joel honoured with Gershwin Prize

Billy Joel has been honoured with a major music prize by the Library of Congress in the US.

The singer-songwriter behind New York State Of Mind, Piano Man and numerous other hits received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Washington.

The 65-year-old star performed in a concert celebrating the prize near the White House, along with Tony Bennett, Gavin DeGraw, LeAnn Rimes, John Mellencamp, Natalie Maines, Boyz II Men and other entertainers. The lifetime achievement award created by Congress is named after the songwriting duo George and Ira Gershwin.

Joel's tunes were enough to have Republican and Democratic congressional leaders sitting side by in the divided capital, clapping to the same beat.

Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor saluted Joel, a fellow New Yorker, for creating an enduring lyrical and musical legacy for the nation.

"For more than five decades, Billy Joel has inspired new generations of performers, musicians and singer-songwriters," she said.

Kevin Spacey took up the harmonica and led a rendition of Piano Man with the night's line-up of performers and Joel at the keyboard. Barbra Streisand, Sir Paul McCartney and James Taylor filmed special tributes for Joel.

At a luncheon in his honour, Joel said he was thinking about his mother, Rosalind Joel, who died this year.

"I keep seeing this through her eyes now," he said. "She would have just gotten such a kick out of this."

Joel's father was an accomplished classical pianist who left the family when the singer was eight, and his mother struggled to support Joel and his sister on New York's Long Island. In high school, Joel played at a piano bar to help support his family. When he didn't have enough credits to graduate, he began his career in music.

Clive Davis signed Joel to a deal with Columbia Records in 1973, and Piano Man was his debut album, inspired by his real-life experiences.

Joel said some of the most exciting concerts he ever played were in 1987 when he was the first American pop star to bring a full rock concert to the Soviet Union. He didn't know if any Russians would know his songs, but he used George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue to help open the concert.

"We wanted people to know we're America. This is our stuff. This is what we're going to give you," he said. "I wanted to introduce that idea. This is our music. This is who we are."

By 1999, Joel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He continues to tour and for the past year has been performing monthly in a residency at New York City's Madison Square Garden for as long as fans will have him.

Past winners of the Gershwin Prize include Carole King, Sir Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.

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