Joel was born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949 in Bronx, New
York. As a young child, his family moved to Levittown, a suburban
housing development on Long Island in New York State. Billy discovered
classical music at the age of four, a love that has stayed with
him to the present day. Billy's early classical piano training
provided him with a strong foundation for his future career.
Among his early influences, Billy lists Ray Charles, The Beatles,
Dave Brubeck, Sam Cooke, the Rolling Stones, and Otis Redding.
His ambition to become a professional musician began to take shape
after seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. At age
14, Billy joined his first band, The Echoes (later known as the
Lost Souls), after noticing, among other things, that it was a
foolproof way to meet girls.
By this time, Billy's parents had divorced and, like many single
parents, his mother was struggling to make ends meet. While still
in junior high school, Billy took professional music jobs at night
to help supplement the family income. It was difficult to work
all night and still make it to school on time. Although Billy's
grades were fine, he was not allowed to graduate with his high
school class as a result of too many absences.
In 1968, Billy joined a well-known Long Island band called The
Hassles. The Hassles recorded two albums for United Artists, "The
Hassles" and "Hour of the Wolf." In 1970, Billy moved on to form
Attila, a heavy metal rock duo with Hassles' drummer, Jon Small.
Attila recorded one album on Epic Records. Although Billy had
an album out, he had to supplement his income during this period
with various "straight" jobs such as writing rock criticism for
the magazine "Changes," working in a factory, painting Piping
Rock Country Club in Locust Valley, Long Island and recording
a commercial with Chubby Checker.
Billy signed a solo recording contract in 1972 and released his
first album, Cold Spring Harbor (Paramount Records). Named after
a village on Long Island's North Shore, it was Billy's first full
album of original songs. Meanwhile, a Philadelphia radio station,
WMMR-FM, started playing a tape of a new song, Captain Jack, which
was taken from a live concert broadcast.
Captain Jack became an underground hit on the East Coast, but
legal and financial wrangles caused Billy to disappear to the
West Coast in 1973, where he performed in piano bars under the
name "Bill Martin." That experience was stored away, later to
be retold in the song, Piano Man. Although Billy did his best
to keep a low profile in Los Angeles, the notoriety of Captain
Jack prompted Columbia Records to track Billy down in Los Angeles
and offer him a recording contract. Billy signed with Columbia
in the spring and went straight to work on an album with producer,
Michael Stewart. His first Top 20 single, Piano Man, was released
at the end of the year.
In 1974, Billy and Michael Stewart teamed up again and recorded
Streetlife Serenade. The album featured the hit single The Entertainer,
and garnered Billy his first crop of music industry awards, including
"Best New Male Vocalist" (Cashbox), "Male Artist of the Year"
(Music Retailer), and "Record of the Year" (Stereo Review, for
Piano Man). Sell-out concert performances at Carnegie Hall and
Lincoln Center in New York City confirmed that Billy had achieved
permanent headliner status.
Billy moved back to New York in 1975, assembled a new band and
began recording the Turnstiles album. Songs such as Say Goodbye
to Hollywood, Billy's tribute to Phil Spector (later covered by
Ronnie Spector), the torchy New York State of Mind, and anthemic
Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway) would join the
ranks of Billy's already classic recordings. With the success
of Turnstiles, Billy embarked on his first major concert tour.
He opened in New York City with a WNEW-FM live broadcast from
the Bottom Line and closed 108 SRO performances later with three
nights at New York's prestigious Carnegie Hall.
Billy's next album was The Stranger. From the time of its release
in 1977 until 1985, The Stranger was the biggest selling album
in Columbia Records' history. Billy toured the United States and
Europe in support of The Stranger, playing 54 concerts from September
to December, including an appearance on "Saturday Night Live."
As the New Year began, the album's popularity showed no signs
of slowing down. In fact, the Billboard Hot 100 chart for May,
1978, listed three singles from The Stranger (Only the Good Die
Young, Movin' Out (Anthony's song), and Just the Way You Are).
In early fall of 1978, with a fourth top 20 single from The Stranger
(She's Always A Woman) still charting, Columbia Records released
52nd Street, which went on to become Billy's first #1 album. A
12 week North American tour finished dramatically with three sold-out
nights at New York City's Madison Square Garden in December.
In February of 1979, in a hotel room in Paris, Billy received
a middle of the night transatlantic phone call informing him that
Just The Way You Are had captured "Record Of The Year," and "Song
of The Year," giving Billy his first two Grammy Awards. After
the European tour ended, Billy traveled to Cuba for "Havana Jam"
(March), an historic three day event at the Karl Marx Theater.
Spring included two months of U.S. touring, two nights at the
Budokan in Tokyo, and a benefit concert for several Long Island
charities. In October, with sales of The Stranger and 52nd Street
totaling over nine million units, Columbia Records named Billy
their biggest-selling solo artist of the 20th century.
By the time Glass Houses was released in March of 1980, Billy
had already won two more Grammy Awards for 52nd Street in the
categories Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male.
Glass Houses quickly reached #1 on the Billboard chart and remained
there for six weeks. The third single release from the album,
It's Still Rock And Roll To Me, became Billy's first #1 single.
Billy was honored with an American Music Award for "Album of the
Year." The North American summer tour included five sold out shows
at Madison Square Garden.
Glass Houses won "Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male" at the 1981
Grammy Awards, giving Billy his fifth Grammy in three years, as
well as a People's Choice Award for "Favorite Male Pop Performer.
While enjoying the success of his previous studio albums, Billy
recorded Songs In The Attic, an album of live concert performances.
Songs In The Attic released in September, 1981, and although some
of the material was not as widely known, it received a very enthusiastic
response from the public. Including the songs She's Got A Way,
I've Loved These Days, Captain Jack, and The Ballad Of Billy The
Kid, Songs In The Attic became Billy's fourth consecutive Top
In 1982, despite a serious motorcycle accident on Long Island,
Billy completed the critically acclaimed The Nylon Curtain album.
Born out of his concern with the "diminishing horizons" of the
American experience, The Nylon Curtain is a hauntingly anthemic
journey through the world of blue collar workers in Allentown,
Pennsylvania, guilt and interpersonal relationships in Pressure,
and the Vietnam experience told through the eyes of a soldier
in Goodnight Saigon. The album earned a four star review in Rolling
Stone, reached #7 on the BillBoard chart, and was nominated for
a Grammy for "Album of the Year" in 1982. Once again, Billy toured
in support of the album
After the Nylon Curtain tour ended, Billy returned home and wrote
an unprecedented ten songs in seven weeks for a new album. An
Innocent Man echoes the music he loved as a kid. The songs that
comprise An Innocent Man are Billy's tribute to the music he loved
growing up. The Motown girl group inspired Tell Her About It,
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons on Uptown Girl (a #3 single
and RIAA certified "Gold" single about his soon to be wife, Christie
Brinkley), the great Ben E. King on An Innocent Man, the street
corner doo-wop of The Longest Time, and sharkskin, shades and
pompadours on Keeping the Faith. An Innocent Man reached #4 on
the Billboard charts, was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Album
of the Year," and generated six Top 40 singles, three of which
made it to the Top 10, including Uptown Girl (which was nominated
for a Grammy Award for "Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male").
In the midst of the excitement and success of An Innocent Man,
Columbia Records decided to re-release Cold Spring Harbor, Billy's
first solo album in November, 1983. Originally recorded for Family
Productions, Cold Spring Harbor contains the original recording
of She's Got A Way and Everybody Loves You Now.
In 1985, Greatest Hits Volume I and Volume II became Billy's seventh
consecutive Top 10 album. In addition to containing most of the
classics in his catalogue, the album also contained two new songs,
The Night Is Still Young and You're Only Human (Second Wind),
Billy's song of encouragement for teenage suicide prevention.
Paul Grein's "Chart Beat" column in Billboard proclaimed Billy
to be the "most consistent and prolific male album artist of the
decade." That same week, You're Only Human (Second Wind), became
Billy's eighth Top 10 single. Billy joined with fellow musicians
John Mellencamp and Randy Newman for Farm Aid I, and also participated
in USA For Africa.
The highlights of 1985 were Billy's marriage to Christie Brinkley
and the birth of their daughter, Alexa Ray. Collaboration with
Ray Charles, Steve Winwood, and Cyndi Lauper culminated in the
new summer release of The Bridge. Billy recorded Baby Grand with
Ray Charles, a long-time hero of Billy's and for whom Alexa Ray
was named. Cyndi Lauper co-wrote and sang on Code of Silence and
Steve Winwood joined Billy on Getting Closer, playing Hammond
B-3 organ. The Bridge also included Modern Woman, the single from
the "Ruthless People" motion picture soundtrack. Billy's first
North American tour in two years opened on September 29th, and
extended through December, with encore performances in many cities
scheduled for January, 1986. Meanwhile, the Big Man on Mulberry
Street album track was adapted for television by the producers
of the hit television show "Moonlighting" (airdate November 18th).
The summer of 1987 marked a personal and professional triumph
for Billy as he became the first U.S. pop star to bring a fully-staged
rock production to the Soviet Union. Under the U.S.-Soviet General
Exchanges Agreement of the Reagan-Gorbachev 1985 Geneva summit,
this was a significant cultural breakthrough and was encouraged
by the U.S. Information Agency and the Soviet Ministry of Culture.
Billy performed in concert at Olympic Sports Complex (Moscow)
and V.I. Lenin Sports/Concert Complex (Leningrad). Millions of
Soviets saw the closing night in Moscow telecast in its entirety
on tape delay. Opening night in Leningrad was the first live rock
radio broadcast in Soviet history, made extra special as it was
simulcast in the United States. The live double-album, Kohuept
(translation: 'In Concert'), chronicled the trip and was released
1989 was a year of great change for Billy, it marked a split with
his long time manager, a re-vamping of his band and the first
time working with producer Mick Jones (Foreigner). Storm Front
was Billy's 14th Columbia album and his first new studio recording
since 1986. Both the album and the first single, We Didn't Start
The Fire, reached the #1 spots simultaneously on the Billboard
album and singles charts on December 16, 1989. The album is suffused
with the maritime imagery of The DownEaster "Alexa" and Storm
Front, the personal reflections of I Go To Extremes and And So
It Goes, a reminiscence of his Soviet sojourn in Leningrad and
the heart-wrenching confession of passionate love in Shameless.
Storm Front received two Grammy nominations for "Best Pop Vocal
Performance, Male," and "Producer of the Year." We Didn't Start
The Fire received nominations for "Record of the Year," "Song
of the Year," and "Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male."
The Storm Front Tour opened on December 6, 1989 in Worcester,
Massachusetts and ended 15 months later on March 24, 1991 with
Billy's first ever concert in Mexico City. The tour reached 4.3
million fans via 174 shows in 16 countries, setting attendance
records across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Highlights
were many, but never-to-be-forgotten moments occurred in Berlin,
where Billy performed a day after German Reunification; in the
Philippines, where he played to GI's on January 15th, the same
day Operation Desert Storm began a continent away; and the Bronx,
where Billy played the first ever rock concert in Yankee Stadium.
Billy also performed two benefit shows at the Jones Beach Amphitheater,
on Long Island, The Concerts for the Bays and Baymen. On December
5, 1990, he took a day off from the road and came home to New
York to receive a Humanitarian Award from the Cathedral of St.
John the Divine, and the Grammy Legend Award
In 1991, while still on tour in support of Storm Front, Garth
Brooks' recording of Shameless hit #1 on the Billboard Country
Chart, another first for Billy.
In 1992, Billy recorded two Elvis Presley classics "All Shook
Up" and" Heartbreak Hotel" for the "Honeymoon in Vegas" motion
picture soundtrack. He also recorded "In A Sentimental Mood" for
the soundtrack for "A League of Their Own."
Soon after finishing the various soundtrack recordings, Billy
began working on a new studio album with producer, Danny Kortchmar.
Released in August of 1993, the River of Dreams album debuted
at #1 on the BillBoard Hot 100 chart where it stayed for 3 weeks.
The first single, The River of Dreams, spent 12 weeks at #1 on
the Contemporary Chart, setting a new record.
1994 began with four Grammy nominations for Billy - Record of
the Year, Song of the Year, and Pop Male Vocal for the song The
River of Dreams and Album of the Year for River of Dreams (the
album). Later that year, Billy took a break from his own tour
to team up with Elton John for a summer stadium tour. The Face
To Face Tour was an unqualified success and one of the hottest
tickets around. In the fall, Billy resumed his own tour and traveled
to Australia at the end of the year. 1994 also saw the end of
Billy's marriage to Christie Brinkley. The two separated amicably
and divorced in August of that year.
In October 1994, the RIAA certified "Songs in the Attic" and "The
Nylon Curtain" for sales of 2 million units which moved Billy
into a tie with the Beatles as the act with the most multiplatinum
albums. The RIAA also certified "52nd Street" and "Glass Houses"
septupleplatinum (7 million units) to make him the only artist
to have four albums at the septupleplatinum mark. The other two
are "The Stranger" and "An Innocent Man."
The River of Dreams Tour continued into early 1995 with a tour
of Japan. Billy was is Osaka during the disastrous Kobe earthquake
and donated proceeds of his concert to local earthquake relief.
He returned to the States and reprised the Face to Face Tour with
After a short breather, Billy hit the college lecture circuit
in January, 1996 with "An Evening of Questions, Answers...and
a Little Music." After speaking at 32 different schools, the lecture
tour concluded in early May with a live radio broadcast at Town
Hall in NYC via WPLJ. The event was a benefit to establish The
Rosalind Joel Scholarship for the Performing Arts at City College
in New York City.
In 1996, Billy found a way to turn his life long passion for boats
into a money making venture. Along with Peter Needham of Coecles
Harbor Marina & Boatyard, he formed the Long Island Boat Company,
and started building the Shelter Island Runabout, a 38' classic
In March, 1997, Billy traveled to Washington, DC to receive ASCAP's
Founder's Award. Awarded for lifetime achievement, past recipients
of the Founder's Award include Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Leiber
and Stoller and other legends.
Having acheived worldwide sales of over 100 million units earlier
this year, 1999 has also marked two other major milestones in
Billy Joel's career. In January, he received the American Music
Awards "Award of Merit" and in February, he was inducted into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Billy Joel rang in the new millenium with a sellout celebration
at New York City's historic Madison Square Garden. The extraordinary
concert was recorded and released on Joel's 17th album, "Billy
Joel, 2000 Years - The Millenium Concert. In March, 2000, Joel
traveled to Washington, D.C. where he received the Smithsonian
Institution's James Smithson Bicentennial Medal. Mr. Joel also
was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music from Southampton College
in May, 2000.
On October 21, 2000, Billy sang the National Anthem at Yankee
Stadium for Game One of the New York Yankees 2000 Baseball World
Series (Subway Series) versus the New York Mets.
In the first half of 2001, Billy kicked-off a 31 date, 25 city
tour of North America with Elton John that lasted from January
19 to May 16. The wildly successful shows were well received with
sold out crowds.
On June 14, 2001, Billy was honored by the Songwriter's Hall of
Fame with the Johnny Mercer Award, the organization's highest
honor, at their annual dinner in New York City. Joel performed
"New York State of Mind' on the America: A Tribute To Heroes special
that aired on 31 networks simultaneously on September 21, 2001.
He also performed at the Concert for New York City on October
20, 2001 playing "Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)"
and "New York State of Mind" as well as performing a poignant
duet of "Your Song" with Elton John and participating in the all-star
finales "Let It Be" and "Freedom". The concert raised millions
of dollars for the September 11th relief fund.
2001 also saw Billy release two new albums. Fantasies and Delusions,
his long awaited album of solo piano compositions was released
on October 2nd, along with a 36 track compilation album, The Essential
Billy Joel. Fantasies and Delusions shot to the top of the classical
charts and held the number one position for weeks.
In the fall of 2001, Billy Joel appeared at college campuses for
a series of Master Classes. Joel answered questions from the audience
and, along with pianist Richard Joo, performed selections from
Fantasies and Delusions as well as songs from Joel's extensive
song catalog. One of the Master Classes was recorded in Philadelphia
and aired nationally on the A&E special "Billy Joel: In His Own
Over the years Joel has contributed unfailingly to such philanthropic
causes as "The Make a Wish Foundation" and "Save the Music". He
has been awarded four honorary degrees and is a favorite of former
president Bill Clinton.