Photos By Armando Gallardo, Words By Julie Espinosa and Armando Gallardo
In America no matter what kind of music does one likes there is an award for it: Grammys, CMT Awards, American Music Awards, MTV Awards , etc. Yet, there’s one award which truly acknowledges the legacy and contributions of a performer or composer to popular music beyond generational differences or what might be ‘hot’ on the radio. The award is given by the Library of Congress and goes by the name of “The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song”.
Past honorees include Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, among others.This year the Library of Congress gave the award to none other than Billy Joel, a musical legend whose storytelling lyrics provided the baby boomer generation with the soundtrack of their lives and so many others, including me, with songs to accompany us in the good and bad times.
Joel, who had recently received the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ Centennial Award, participated in a luncheon in his honor on Tuesday where speaking to a packed room of distinguished guests said that his mother, who passed away last year, “Would have gotten a kick out of this.” He also spoke about the inspiration that he drew from George and Ira Gershwin when performing in the former Soviet Union in 1987, the first-ever full rock production in the USSR by an American which to some helped pave the road for the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story was so compelling that it became a documentary.
Last Wednesday, The Library of Congress in conjunction with PBS, CPB and WETA put together a star-studded concert in honor of Joel ,who received the Gershwin award in front of a ecstatic audience and got to play several of his hits at DAR Constitutional Hall. Joel’s band played house band while other artists such as John Mellencamp, Boyz II Men, Tony Bennet, Gavin DeGraw, Josh Groban, Lean Rimes and others sang some of his most memorable songs back to back to back. Additionally, several personalities spoke about the role that Billy’s songs played in their life, while a montage of video interviews and messages by some of his dear friends such as Paul McCartney, James Taylor, and others played in the background between acts.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in charge of dedicating some words to this year’s honoree, who followed by the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Chairman on the Joint Committee on the Library Greg Harper, Chairman of the Committee on House Administration Candice S. Miller presented the award to Joel, accompanied by a sea of applause from the packed auditorium.
Given that the show will be broadcast on PBS on January 2nd we really don’t want to ruin the surprise by giving a play-by-play on the program. What we can say is that this will certainly go as a historic moment in DC musical history not only for the caliber of music that Billy Joel’s catalog encompasses but also by the quality of the renditions and surprises that the program included. One thing that is worth nothing is that one should record this show because you will want to watch it all over again. Cheers to the maestro and thank you for the music, Piano Man!