1992 Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Billy Joel, singer, songwriter and piano man extraordinaire, has been a major force in popular music for more than 20 years. A native Long Islander, born in 1949, Joel grew up in Hicksville at the peak of the post World War II baby boom. At the age of four, Billy first discovered and became fascinated with classical music, a love that has stayed with him to this day. He studied classical piano, but as he progressed, he learned how to turn a favorite Beethoven sonata into a boogie woogie romp.
Among his earliest influences, Billy cites Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy, along with the great American composers, Copeland, Gershwin and Ellington. His more contemporary influences include Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
As he was turning 15, Joel, already a skilled musician, joined his first band, The Echoes (later The Lost Souls). A veteran of many Long Island bands, including The Hassles, and later Attila, it was as a solo artist that Joel made his first significant recording, “Cold Spring Harbor” (named after a town on Long island’s North Shore) on the Paramount label.
Signed by Columbia Records in 1973, Joel recorded “Piano Man.” Both the album and the single went gold soon after their release, while his third effort, “Streetlife Serenade,” garnered a first group of many awards to come, including “Best New Male Vocalist” (Cash Box); “Male Artist of the Year” (Music Retailer); and “Record of the Year” for “Piano Man,” (Stereo Review). Joel went on to become one of the major forces of the recording artists of the 70s, ‘80s and now the ‘90s. Of his fourteen album releases, eleven have been certified platinum and/or multi-platinum, in turn generating more than 40 chart-listed single hits, including “Piano Man,” “Just The Way You Are,” “Only The Good Die Young,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me,” “Uptown Girl,” and “We Didn’t Start The Fire.”
Among the many honors he has received, Joel has been nominated for 18 Grammy awards, winning five, including two each for “Just The Way You Are” and “52nd Street;” and one for “Glass Houses.” In addition, he was honored with the Grammy Legend Award in 1990.
Over the course of more than 25 years of performing, Joel has been selling out venues since his early days at The Bitter End in New York’s Greenwich Village, to Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. Joel has toured throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, Latin America, as well as Cuba and Israel. The culminating tour experience, however, came in 1987, when he became the first American pop star to bring a fully-staged rock music production to the Soviet Union. Joel also performed in Berlin during the reunification of Germany and in the Philippines where he performed for American GI’s the day the Persian Gulf War started a continent away.
Over the years, Joel has been active on behalf of community and environmental projects, performing at benefit concerts, most notably the Concert for the Bays and Baymen, Farm Aid 1, Charity Begins At Home, Concert For the New York City Police Athletic League, Back At The Ranch, and The Concert for Walden Woods.
Although he is certainly a successful performer, Joel has always maintained that he is a songwriter first, and there is no surer proof of this than that of having had his material recorded and sung by the greatest performers of our time. Among the artists included in this diverse group are Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Phil Woods, Mose Allison, Ronnie Spector, Bette Midler, Diane Schuur, Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and Garth Brooks. Throughout a career that has included many miles and milestones, it is for Joel’s songwriting craftsmanship for which he receives the ultimate accolades.