On this date in 1949, William Martin “Billy” Joel was born in the Bronx, N.Y. Joel grew up on Long Island, where he began to play piano as a young child. He joined his first band, the Echoes, as a teenager, and gained a reputation for musical performance. His musical career started in high school, when he joined a popular local band called the Hassles. Joel never graduated from high school because of the time he dedicated to his musical career. He recorded his first two albums, "The Hassles" and "Hour of the Wolf" with the Hassles, before striking out on his own. After becoming dissatisfied with Family Productions — the label that produced his first solo album, "Cold Spring Harbor" — Joel moved to Los Angeles where he worked at piano bars before signing with Columbia Records in 1973. That year, Joel recorded his breakout album, "Piano Man." The single, “Piano Man,” became Joel's first hit, making it to number 20 on the charts. Joel wrote and performed pop and rock music in a variety of styles and on a variety of subjects throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with many hits including “Just The Way You Are” and “Only the Good Die Young” on 1977's "The Stranger," and “Uptown Girl” on the album "An Innocent Man" (1983). “Uptown Girl” was famously written about his then-girlfriend, model Christie Brinkley. The two married in 1985, and their daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, was born later that same year. Brinkley and Joel divorced in 1994. Alexa has followed in her father's footsteps as a pianist, singer and songwriter. In 1993, Joel turned to classical composition and performance, and has written two pop songs since then.
Joel has won six Grammys: Record of the Year and Song of the Year for “Just the Way You Are” (1978), Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance Male for "52nd Street" (1979), Best Pop Vocal Performance Male for "Glass Houses" (1980), and in 1991 received the Grammy Legend honor. Joel received numerous Grammy nominations between 1978 and 2002. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and has received six honorary doctorates. Many of Joel's albums have gone platinum or multi-platinum. According to the RIAA, Joel is the 6th best-selling artist of all time, and the third best-selling solo artist, behind only Elvis Presley and Garth Brooks, having sold 79.5 million certified units as of April 7, 2011.
Howard Stern: Are you the type of guy that believes in karma and things like that?
Billy Joel: Yes . . . well, not in the religious or spiritual sense, I just, you know, that's how things seem to work out.
Stern: Are you religious, do you believe in a God?
Stern: You don't.
Joel: I'm an atheist.
—Billy Joel interview on “The Howard Stern Show,” Nov. 16, 2010
Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski
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