“Piano Man” Billy Joel called it “a little overwhelming” to be among this year’s class of Kennedy Center Honors recipients, along with Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, opera singer Martina Arroyo and actress Shirley MacLaine.
Although he’s collected six Grammy Awards during his 40-year recording career, the 64-year-old singer and songwriter told the Associated Press on Sunday, “This is different. It’s our nation’s capital. This is coming more from my country than just people who come to see me.”
The Kennedy Center recognition came at the end of the same week Joel became the first entertainer to set up a performing residency at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where he’ll play monthly as long as the ticket demand continues.
He received a toast from Garth Brooks, who has long acknowledged Joel as a key influence on his music. "Music has a wonderful gift," Brooks said. "For those that do it right, they can put you in shoes that you would never understand if it wasn't for that song."
Carlos Santana was saluted by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said of the Mexico-born guitarist and bandleader, "We love the music you made, not because it's Latin, but frankly because it is so very American."
Herbie Hancock was given a surprise introduction by political pundit Bill O'Reilly, who gave way to an all-star band that included Terence Blanchard, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea, which expanded to include Joshua Redman and Snoop Dogg. "Herbie, we love you," Snoop said. "Thank you for creating hip-hop."
The Kennedy Center Honors are the nation’s highest award to those who have influenced American culture through the arts. Sunday’s awards presentation was preceded by a gala dinner on Saturday night attended by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and which will air Dec. 29 as a two-hour CBS TV special.
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