Born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949, in Bronx, New York. As a young child, Billy Joel and family moved to Levittown, one of the first modern suburban housing developments on Long Island in New York State. He discovered classical music at the age of four, a love that has stayed with him to the present day. His early classical piano training provided him with a strong foundation for his future career.
His early influences included 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, he The Echoes (later known as the Lost Souls), after noticing it was a great way to meet the opposite sex.
By this time, his parents had divorced and still in junior high school, he took professional music jobs at night to help supplement the family income. Although his grades were fine, he was not allowed to graduate with his high school class as a result of too many absences.
In 1968, he joined Long Island band The Hassles who recorded two albums for 'United Artists' titled The Hassles and Hour of the Wolf. In 1970, he formed Attila, a Heavy Metal rock duo with Hassles' drummer, Jon Small. Attila recorded one album on 'Epic Records'. But he suffered from the standard starving artist syndrome supplemented his income during this period with various 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 a commercial with Chubby Checker.
1972 he got a solo recording contract and released his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, named after a village on Long Island's North Shore for 'Paramount Records'.
Captain Jack, a live concert broadcast, first broadcast on Philadelphia radio station WMMR-FM became an underground hit on the U.S. East Coast, but legal and financial issues forced him to disappear to the West Coast in 1973, where he performed in piano bars under the name Bill Martin. That experience was retold in the song, Piano Man. Although he tried to keep a low profile in Los Angeles, the notoriety of Captain Jack prompted 'Columbia Records' to track him down in Los Angeles and offer him a recording contract; a contract he accepted and went to work on an album with producer, Michael Stewart. Piano Man, his first Top 20 single, was released at the end of that year.
In 1974, he and Michael Stewart, teamed up again and recorded Streetlife Serenade. The album featured the hit single The Entertainer. This track got Billy Joel his first lot 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 confirmed that he had achieved permanent headliner status.
In 1975, he moved back to New York and assembled a new band to record the Turnstiles album. This album was chalked full of Billy Joel classics like Say Goodbye to Hollywood, (a tribute to Phil Spector; later covered by Ronnie Spector), New York State of Mind and Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway).
He now went on his first concert tour. He opened in New York 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.
The release of his The Strangers in 1977 until 1985, was the biggest selling album in 'Columbia Records' history. He toured the U.S.A. and Europe in a support tour, playing 54 concerts as well as an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Billboard Hot 100 chart for May, 1978 still listed three singles from The Stranger including Only the Good Die Young, Movin' Out (Anthony's song) and Just the Way You Are.
52nd Street became Billy Joel's first #1 in the fall of 1978. The 12 week support tour saw three consecutive sold out nights at New York's Madison Square Gardens in December while a top 20 single was obtained for She's Always A Woman from his previous The Stranger album.
Just The Way You Are got him 2 Grammies in February 1978 for "Record of The Year" and "Song of The Year". The praise would continue when 'Columbia' listed him as their biggest selling solo artist of the 20th century; the sales of 52nd Street and The Stranger now totaling over 9 million units.
52nd Street would win him two more Grammies in 1980 for "Best Male Pop Vocal" and "Album Of The Year". His next release, in March of 1978, Glass Houses, reached #1 on Billboard and stayed there for six weeks and got him an American Music Award for "Album Of The Year". The resulting It's Still Rock And Roll To Me got him his first #1 for a single. The album won "Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male" at the 1981 Grammy Awards, and a People's Choice Award "Favorite Male Pop Performer."
Songs In The Attic, an album of live concert performances, was his next effort 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; it became his fourth consecutive Top 10 album.
In 1982, despite a serious motorcycle accident on Long Island, he completed the critically acclaimed The Nylon Curtain album. Born out of his concern with the "diminishing horizons" of the American experience, The Nylon Curtain was a hauntingly anthemic journey through the world of blue-collar workers in Allentown, Pennsylvania depicting guilt and interpersonal relationships in pressure and the Vietnam experience told through the eyes of a soldier on the track Goodnight Saigon. The album reached #7 on the Billboard chart, and was nominated for a Grammy for "Album of the Year"in 1982.
After The Nylon Curtain tour ended, he returned home and wrote ten songs in seven weeks for An Innocent Man, an album that echoed the music he loved as a kid. The album was an all-star smorgasbord featuring 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), Ben E. King on the title track, the street corner doo-wop of The Longest Time, and sharkskin, shades and pompadours on Keeping the Faith. The album reached #4 on the Billboard charts with six top 40 singles, three of which made it top 10. It was later nominated for a Grammy Award for "Album of the Year" with Uptown Girl nominated for a Grammy for "Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male".
'Columbia Records' then re-released Cold Spring Harbor, Joel's first solo album in November, 1983. Originally recorded for 'Family Productions', Cold Spring Harbor contained the original recording of She's Got A Way and Everybody Loves You Now.
In 1985, the compilation Greatest Hits Volume I And Volume II became his 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), his song of encouragement for teenage suicide prevention. Paul Grein's "Chart Beat" column in Billboard had had enough and proclaimed Billy Joel to be the "most consistent and prolific male album artist of the decade." That same week, You're Only Human (Second Wind), made Top 10. He then participated in the Farm Aid I concert for Africa with fellow musicians John Mellencamp and Randy Newman.
In 1985 he married to actress Christie Brinkley and boasted the birth of their daughter, Alexa Ray. The Bridge, released that summer, was another all-star collaboration, this time featuring with Ray Charles, Steve Winwood and Cyndi Lauper. He recorded Baby Grand with Ray Charles, a long-time hero of his and for whom Alexa Ray was named. Cyndi Lauper co-wrote and sang on Code of Silence and Steve Winwood joined him on Getting Closer by playing Hammond B-3 organ. The Bridge also included Modern Woman, the single from the Ruthless Peoplemotion picture soundtrack. That same year his first North American tour in two years opened on September 29th.
The summer of 1987 marked 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, the U.S. Information Agency and the Soviet Ministry of Culture encouraged it. He performed in concert at the Moscow Olympic Sports Complex (Moscow) and Leningrad's V.I. Lenin Sports/Concert Complex. 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 in October.
In 1989 he split with his long time manager, re-vamped his band and started working with producer Mick Jones (of Foreigner). Storm Front was his 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 spot simultaneously on the Billboard album and singles charts on December 16, 1989. The album featured the Maritime imagery of The Down Easter Alexa and the historically lyrical Storm Front, the personal reflections of I Go To Extremes as well as And So It Goes and a reminiscence of his Soviet concerts in Leningrad. 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 resulting support tour reached 4.3 million people at 174 shows in 16 countries, including his first in Mexico and Yankee Stadium, as well as performing in Germany the night before its reunification.
In 1992, Billy Joel recorded two Elvis Presley classics All Shook Up and Heartbreak Hotel for the Honeymoon in Vegas movie soundtrack, as well as In A Sentimental Mood for the soundtrack for A League of Their Own. Soon after, in August of 1993, the River of Dreams album was completed and 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, "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 album. The Face To Face Tour, with Elton John, was an unqualified success. 1994 also saw the amicable divorce between he and Christie Brinkley.
RIAA certified Songs in the Attic and The Nylon Curtain for sales of 2 million units that moved Billy Joel into a tie with the Beatles as the act with the most multi-platinum albums in October 1994. 52nd Street and Glass Houses was also certified as septuple-platinum (7 million units) to make him the only artist to have four albums at the septuple-platinum mark; the other two were The Stranger and An Innocent Man.
In 1996 with "An Evening of Questions, Answers...and a Little Music." was his college lecture tour. After speaking at 32 different schools, it concluded with a live radio broadcast at Town Hall, in NYC via WPLJ in May of that year. The event was a benefit to establish The Rosalind Joel Scholarship for the Performing Arts at College in New York . That same year he, along with Peter Needham of Coecles Harbor Marina & Boatyard, formed the Long Island Boat Company, and started building the Shelter Island Runabout, a 38' classic powerboat. He had been known for his enjoyment of boating and frequented the shores of Nova Scotia, Canada.
Having achieved worldwide sales of over 100 million units, 1999 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 millennium with a sellout celebration at New York's historic Madison Square Garden. The concert was recorded and released his 17th album, Billy Joel, 2000 Years - The Millennium Concert. In March, 2000, he traveled to Washington, D.C. where he received the Smithsonian Institution's James Smithson Bicentennial Medal. He was also was awarded an honorary 'Doctor of Music' from Southampton College in May, 2000. In October of the next year he sang the U.S. National Anthem at Yankee Stadium for game one of the New York Yankees versus the New York Mets 2000 Baseball World Series (a.k.a. the Subway Series). In the first half of 2001, he engaged on a 31 date, 25 venue tour of North America with Elton John in January 19 of 2001.
In June of 2001, Billy Joel was honored by the Songwriter's Hall of Fame with the Johnny Mercer Award, the organization's highest honor, and in September 2001 he performed New York State of Mind on the America: A Tribute To Heroes special that aired on 31 networks simultaneously, shortly after he played at the Concert for New York 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. He also released 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 & Delusions shot to the top of the classical charts and held the number one position for weeks. In Fall of 2001 he appeared at college campuses for a series of Master Classes whereby he 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 Words".
In May 2013, it was announced that Joel would hold his first ever indoor Irish concert at the O2 in Dublin on November 1.
On December 3, 2013, it Joel would become a regular of Madison Square Garden, playing one concert a month indefinitely, starting with a date on January 27, 2014.
On August 4, 2015 Joel played the final concert at Nassau Coliseum before the arena underwent a $261 million renovation.
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 apparently a favorite of former president Bill Clinton.