The eclectic influence of Billy Joel was on display at the 36th annual Kennedy Center Honors Sunday night, as musicians from the worlds of jazz, country, emo and rock paid tribute to The Piano Man.
“Billy Joel is so much more than a piano man,” said his friend Tony Bennett, who said the Hicksville native was adding to the American Songbook. “He's our poet and our pal.”
Don Henley offered an achingly simple version of “She's Got a Way.” Garth Brooks provided a country-tinged version of “Only the Good Die Young” and a faithful take on “Allentown” and “Goodnight Saigon,” backed by a gospel choir and, later, U.S. Armed Forces veterans, which drew a standing ovation and tears from many in the crowd. Rufus Wainwright hugged himself during an emotional version of “New York State of Mind,” before leading the crowd in a sing-along of “Piano Man.” Brendon Urie of emo rockers Panic! At the Disco delivered a dramatic version of “Big Shot.”
…This year's honorees all viewed the nation's highest award for performers — the American equivalent to British knighthood or France's Legion of Honor — from the presidential box, seated next to President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, who hosted the performers at a White House reception immediately before the gala, which will be broadcast on Dec. 29 by CBS.
…Joel said on the red carpet that he was touched by having so many people — known for excellence in politics and sports as well as music — tell him how much they enjoyed his music. “You see all these famous people on the news and you forget that they're people too,” he said. “To hear them say they've listened to your music and have gone to your shows — I'm just stunned.”
Watch Billy's interview with News 12 Long Island.
Photo credits: Getty Images