Born on May 9, 1949 as William Martin Joel
Billy Joel began studying the piano
at age 4. As a teen, Joel got interested in boxing, but in 1964 when he saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, he decided to become a musician. In 1963 he joined a band called The Echoes
(later renamed Emeralds and then The Lost Souls). Four years later he joined The Hassles
which had a contract with United Artists Records. They released 2 albums: The Hassles
and Hour of the Wolf
. The group disbanded in 1969. Jon Small, the drummer of The Hassles
, and Joel then formed a duo called Attila
. They recorded 1 album under Epic Records. The duo parted after their first and only album.
In 1971, Joel signed a contract with Family Productions releasing his first album Cold Spring Harbor in November 1971. Problems with his contract with Family Productions forced Joel to laylow. He then adopted the name Bill Martin and performed at piano bars in the West Coast. In 1973 Joel got his first big break when Columbia Records offered him a contract after hearing his taped live performance of "Captain Jack" on the radio. His first album Piano Man was released that same year and by 1974 the album went gold. His second album, Streetlife Serenade, was also a success earning him several awards.
More Albums:Turnstiles (1976)The Stranger (1977, the album climbed the charts at #2, won the Grammy's Record of the Year, includes the songs "Always A Woman" and "Just the Way You Are" which won the Grammy's Song of the Year)52nd St. (1978, topped the US charts for 8 weeks, won the Grammy's Album of the Year, includes the song "Honesty")Glass Houses (1980, topped the Billboard Album Chart for 6 weeks, includes the #1 hit "It’s Still Rock N Roll to Me")Songs in the Attic (1981)The Nylon Curtain (1982, nominated for Grammy Album of the Year
Other Albums:An Innocent Man (1983, climbed the Billboard Charts at #4, Grammy nominated for Album of the Year, contains the songs "Tell Her About It" [#1] and "Uptown Girl" [#3]Greatest Hits Volume I and II (1985)The Bridge (1985)Kohuept (1987, 2-disc album of his live performance at Leningrad)Storm Front (1989, includes the song "We Didn't Start the Fire" which topped the singles chart, both the song and the album received Grammy nominations)River of Dreams (1993, both the album and the title track topped the charts)Greatest Hits Volume III (1997)Fantasies & Delusions (2001)All My Life (2007)
Achievements/Awards:1975 - Cashbox award for Best New Male Vocalist1980 - American Music Award for Album of the Year1990 - Grammy Living Legend Award1991 - Received an honorary doctorate from Fairfield University1992 - Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame1994 - Received several nominations for his album and the song "The River of Dreams" and received a Billboard Century Award1997 - Received Founder's Award from ASCAP
Other Achievements/Awards:1999 - Received Award of Merit from American Music Awards1999 - RIAA Diamond Award for his album Greatest Hits Volume I and II and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame2000 - Received an honorary Doctorate of Music from Long Island UniversityToured extensively within the United States and internationallySupports various causes and has performed on benefit concerts
Personal Struggles/Love Life:
Billy Joel faced many obstacles before he became the man, performer and singer/songwriter that he is today. These struggles included depression early in his career which led him to check into Meadowbrook Hospital; a motorcycle accident in 1982 that broke his wrist and alcohol abuse which urged him to check into the Betty Ford Clinic in 2005.
Joel was married to Elizabeth Weber in 1973 but they divorced in 1982. In 1985, Joel married Christie Brinkley, their daughter, Alexa Ray was born on the same year. Joel and Brinkley's marriage ended in 1994. Joel then married Katie Lee in 2004.
Interesting Fact/Related Lesson Plan:
Some of the songs in his album An Innocent Man
were inspired by his second wife Christie Brinkley.
"We Didn't Start the Fire" - Take a look at this lesson plan that uses Billy Joel's hit song to teach historical facts and figures. (Level: First Grade and up)
For more on Billy Joel, visit his official website.