Freethought of the Day

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There are 1 entries for this date: Billy Joel
Billy Joel

Billy Joel

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 hel turned to classical composition and performance and has written 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. Joel is the third-best-selling solo artist, behind only Elvis Presley and Garth Brooks, having sold 84.5 million certified units as of May 2019.

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?
Joel: No.
Stern: You don't.
Joel: I'm an atheist.

—Joel interview on “The Howard Stern Show" (Nov. 16, 2010)

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; photo by Everett Collection,

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