May 9, 1949

May9On this day in 1949, William “Billy” Martin Joel was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in Hicksville, New York, in a Levitt home by his immigrant parents – father Howard and mother Rosalind.

They would divorce eleven years later; his father moving to Vienna, Austria. Joel has one sister and one half-brother (a famous classical conductor in Europe). Joel’s father was a skilled classical pianist. Billy unwillingly began piano lessons at an early age after his mother insisted. Joel was bullied in school for participating in the arts rather than in sports. When Joel was a teenager, he started taking boxing lessons, not because he was interested in the sport but so that he would be able to defend himself against neighbourhood jocks. He was very successful in the ring, and boxed on the amateur Golden Gloves circuit a short time, winning twenty-two fights.

Joel attended Hicksville High School, but did not graduate. He had been helping his single mother pay the bills by playing at a piano bar, which did not help with his school attendance. At the end of his senior year, rather than attend summer school to earn his diploma, Joel decided to begin his musical career right then and there.

Joel later said, “I told them, to hell with it. If I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records, and you don’t need a high school diploma over there.”

Right he was – Columbia Records would be the record label to eventually sign Billy Joel.

He is now one of America’s top pianists, singer-songwriters and composers. Since his release of the famous ballad, ‘Piano Man’ in 1973, Joel has become the sixth-best-selling recording artist and the third-best-selling solo artist in the United States, according to the RIAA.

Joel had Top 40 hits during three different decades: the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. He achieved 33 Top 40 hits in the United States, all of which he wrote himself. He is a six-time Grammy Award winner, as well as a 23-time Grammy nominee. And, to top that off, he is one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide.

He was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Joel stopped writing and recording after 1993’s release of River of Dreams (with two exceptions, the release of ‘All My Life’ and ‘Christmas in Fallujah’ in 2007) but he continued to tour up until 2010.

Joel has been married three times. His most publicized marriage (his second) took place in 1985 to Super Model Christie Brinkley. The two have one daughter together, Alexa Ray Joel.

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