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Pianist, singer-songwriter, and composer, William Martin “Billy” Joel reluctantly began playing the piano at his mother’s insistence at a young age. Joel later used these skills to support him and his mom through high school at a local piano bar. This stint would interfere with his school work and resulted in his inability to finish school in time with the rest of his class. Rather than take summer school and get his diploma, he decided to take his musical talents to Columbia Records and begin a career as a full-time musical performer.
To begin his career, Joel joined the Echoes, which specialized in British invasion covers, and began recording in 1965. Joel spent a short time with the group, leaving to join another group called the Hassles in 1967. The group would release a total of 4 singles and 2 albums that flopped in production. Joel and the drummer, Jon Small, split with the group in 1969 and formed a duo group called Atilla that would quickly split due to personal complications between Joel and Small.
Joel then signed a contract with Family Productions and produced his first solo album, Old Spring Harbor, that wouldn’t have much success. Following this Joel then signed with Colombia Records and produced the hit “Piano Man” in 1973. Though the hit would turn moderate sales, it became one of his signature songs at concerts. Joel’s next album, Streetlife Serenade, is best known for the song “The Entertainer” that became a number 34 hit in the US.
Later, Joel released The Stranger in 1977 with producer Phil Ramone, and The Bridge in 1986. The Stranger would become a commercial success, producing four top 25 hits on the Billboard charts: “Movin’ Out”, “Just the Way You Are”, “She’s Only a Woman”, and “Only the Good Die Young”. The album would go on to be the 70th greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone.
Joel’s next album, 52nd Street, released in 1978, sold over 7 million copies and reached number one status with the “My Life”, “Big Shot”, and “Honesty”. Joel would go on to release six more albums ending his career with River of Dreams. He currently tours performing his songs along with covers of other artists of his era.
Joel has become the 6th best-selling artist and the 3rd best-selling solo artist in the US. He has had Top 40 hits in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, achieving 33 top hits in the US, all of which he wrote himself. He is also a six-time Grammy award winner with 23 nominations, has sold more than 150 million records world-wide, and has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006. His biggest award has been the Kennedy Center Honors, which is the nation’s highest honor for influencing American culture through the arts.