Elton John

On this date in 1947, Reginald Kenneth Dwight (Elton John) was born in Pinner, England. By age four, he began playing piano and reportedly could play any melody he heard. He dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1961 to form his first band, Bluesology, which performed Ray Charles and Jim Reeves ballads, among others. He acquired his stage name from two of the musicians in Bluesology, Long John Baldry and Elton Dean. After leaving Bluesology in 1966, Elton auditioned unsuccessfully for several big-name rock bands, but found success at an audition as a songwriter where he met Bernie Taupin, a lyricist with whom he would form a life-long musical partnership. According to Elton's website, Bernie could write lyrics in less than an hour and Elton would compose the music in half an hour. Elton's first major hit, "Your Song," making the U.S. Top Ten charts in 1970, earned him international fame. Elton and his band, The Elton John Band, went on to have other major hits including "Rocket Man" (1972) and "Honky Cat" (1972). Elton created Rocket Records in 1974, the label under which he released the hits "Daniel" and "Crocodile Rock." In that same year, Elton and his band collaborated with his friend John Lennon at Lennon's final public concert in Madison Square Garden. Elton sold out Madison Square Garden for seven nights in 1976, a record still unmatched. Deemed the most successful pop artist of the 1970s, he often released more than two albums a year.

The singer battled bulimia and drug and alcohol addictions in the 1970s and 1980s, and came out as bisexual in 1976. Just as his popularity waned, his band experienced a comeback at a free concert they hosted in Central Park. He produced chart-toppers in the 1980s such as "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" (1983) and "I'm Still Standing" (1983). He experienced a health scare in the late 1980s with potentially cancerous nodules affecting his vocal chords. This brush with illness, threatening to dismantle his singing career, and co-habitating with partner David Furnish, helped re-focus Elton to take care of his health, fight off his addictions, and become a generous philanthropist. In 1990, he began donating royalties from many of his concerts to AIDS awareness and, in 1993 formed the Elton John Aids Foundation. This was also the year of his first post-Oscar party that raises funds for AIDS, which has become an annual tradition. Elton was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, wrote songs for "The Lion King," and won an Academy Award for the "Lion King" song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." He won Tony Awards for his work on the theatrical productions of "The Lion King" (1998) and "Aida" (2000). His single, "Candle in the Wind," honoring the tragic death of his friend Princess Diana, broke all records and he donated proceeds to Diana's favorite charities. Now an out homosexual, Elton rejects organized religion largely because "religion has always tried to turn hatred toward gay people. Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays" (Observer Monthly Magazine, Nov. 2006). He was knighted in 1998 by Queen Elizabeth II for his contributions to music and fundraising for AIDS. With about 220 million album sales over his 40-plus year career, he is one of the world's most well-known musical talents and humanitarians.

“From my point of view, I would ban religion completely. The reality is that organized religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate.”

—Sir Elton John quoted in Observer Music Monthly Magazine in an interview with Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears, Nov. 2006

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch; Photo by Tinseltown, Shutterstock.com

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