Kristoffer Tripplaar /SIPA USA-KT POOL/EPA
Billy Joel was one of five stars to receive a Kennedy Center honor at Sunday event in D.C. The entire performance will be aired Dec. 29 on CBS.
Billy Joel was bestowed one of the nation’s top awards Sunday as a star-studded crowd at the Kennedy Center in Washington let him know they love him just the way he is.
The 64-year-old Bronx-born music superstar was one of five people to receive the Kennedy Center Honors for their impact on American culture through the arts.
“This is different,” Joel, a six-time Grammy Award-winner told the Associated Press before Sunday’s black-tie event. “It’s our nation’s capital. This is coming more from my country than just people who come to see me. It’s a little overwhelming.”
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were on hand as the honorees received their medallions.
“To be chosen for this special award essentially for doing what I love most amazes me more than anything,” Joel said.
Others being honored were Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, opera singer Martina Arroyo and actress Shirley MacLaine.
“The Kennedy Center celebrates five extraordinary individuals, who have spent their lives elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and world,” said David Rubenstein, chairman of the Kennedy Center.
For Joel, the honor comes just days after he became Madison Square Garden’s first musical “franchise” — agreeing to perform a concert a month at the Midtown arena indefinitely.
On Saturday night, Secretary of State Kerry threw a black-tie dinner for honorees at the State Department.
“They are loved by so many, imitated by some, but never ever can they be replaced,” Kerry said. “We are reminded that the role of arts can also never be replaced.”
At the dinner, country-music star Garth Brooks toasted Joel, saying his legacy will influence generations to come.
Brooks praised Joel for penning hit after hit about working-class people, from the steel workers in “Allentown” to the Vietnam soldiers in “Goodnight Saigon.”
“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.”
Kerry made special note of Santana’s journey from Mexican immigrant to guitar-playing rock master.
“We love the music you made, not because it’s Latin, but frankly because it is so very American,” said Kerry, noting that Santana, 66, is one of only a few Latinos to receive the award.
Hancock, 73, who got his start at the piano at age 7 and grew up to win 14 Grammys and an Oscar, said it was “overwhelming to be on that list of people whose work I’ve respected for so many years during my lifetime.”
MacLaine, 79, whose acting career spans six decades, said she was humbled by the “global kind of recognition” the honor signifies.
“People who get these awards are contributing to the world’s art, and I feel privileged to be one of them,” MacLaine said.
A broadcast of the gala performance is scheduled to be aired Dec. 29 on CBS.
With News Wire Services