Billy Joel will receive America's highest award for performers in December, when he is honored at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, alongside pianist and bandleader Herbie Hancock, guitarist Carlos Santana, actress Shirley MacLaine and opera singer Martina Arroyo.
The Kennedy Center Honors are awarded to performers for their lifetime contributions to American culture and for excellence in their fields. This year's honorees will receive medals at a State Department dinner on Dec. 7, as well as be the guests of honor at a White House reception hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Dec. 8. They will then join the Obamas in the Kennedy Center presidential box, as their peers pay tribute to their legendary careers. The event will be broadcast on Dec. 29 on CBS.
"The Kennedy Center celebrates five extraordinary individuals who have spent their lives elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world," the center's chairman, David M. Rubenstein, said in a statement, adding that "Billy Joel's melodies have provided the soundtrack of our lives for over four decades, making him one of pop music's most prolific and memorable singers and songwriters."
Joel, a native of Hicksville, has sold more than 150 million records in his career and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. His "Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 and 2" has sold 23 million copies and is the third-biggest-selling album in music history.
Joel could not be reached, but he said in a statement: "I'm truly honored to be named a Kennedy Center honoree along with the other esteemed artists named this year. And to have my name added to the illustrious roster of outstanding musicians that have already been so honored is very meaningful to me. But to be chosen for this special award essentially for doing what I love most amazes me more than anything."
Joel previously performed at the Kennedy Center Honors to pay tribute to Elton John in 2004, performing, at John's request, a medley of "Bennie and The Jets" and "The Bitch Is Back."
Last year's honorees included actor Dustin Hoffman, talk show host David Letterman and the British rock band Led Zeppelin.