William Martin Joel, best known as pop musician Billy Joel, was born on May 9, 1949 in the Bronx, New York. He was classically trained on piano and loved Broadway show tunes as well as rhythm and blues when he began his bar band career in Long Island, New York. He earned the nicknames “The Piano Man”, “Joe”, and “Mr. Long Island” from these early days.
Joel’s father Howard was a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Germany and his mother Rosalynd Nyman was an agnostic Jew born in England. His parents divorced and his father remarried . Joel’s half brother is a famous concert pianist by the name of Alexander Joel.
Joel showed an early aptitude for music and began piano lessons at the age of four. He had his first music gig at a piano bar at the age of 15. By the time Joel was sixteen he was a member of three different bands, including being the piano player for the Shangri-Las 1965 hit "Leader of the Pack”.
He loved music so much that he quit high school by the age of 17 and decided to pursue his music career full time. In the early 1970’s Joel signed a lifetime agreement with Family Records. He released his first album called “Cold Spring Harbor” which bombed so badly that he changed his name to Billy Martin while playing in an LA Lounge. After “laying low” for a while, Joel signed with Columbia Records that his career took off.
His most played song “Just the Way You Are” was released in 1977 as was his tremendously successful album “The Stranger”. While the album was one of Columbia Records most successful albums Joel only made $3,000 off of it due to poor management. Other hits include “Movin Out”, “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”, and “Big Shot”.
He married his business manager Elizabeth Weber in 1973 and they divorced in 1982, then he married model Christie Brinkley in 1985. They had their daughter Alexa Ray Joel together, who was named after piano legend Ray Charles. Brinkley and Joel had a very public divorce in 1994, and Joel married his third wife Katie Lee in 2004.
Joel is one of the few artists that has earned the honor of having top ten hits for three decades- the 1970’s, 1980’s and the 1990’s.
In 2003 he worked with Twyla Tharp and produced the hit musical “Moving Out” which received 10 Tony nominations. In 2004 he was awarded a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.