William Martin “Billy” Joel (born May 9, 1949) is an American pianist, singer-songwriter, and composer. Since releasing his first hit song, “Piano Man”, in 1973, Joel has become the sixth best-selling recording artist and the third best-selling solo artist in the United States.
Billy’s father, Howard (born Helmuth) Joel, a classical pianist, was born in Germany, the son of a Jewish merchant and manufacturer, Karl Amson Joel. Howard emigrated to Switzerland and later to the United States to escape the Nazi regime. Joel’s mother, Rosalind, was born in England to Jewish parents, Philip and Rebecca Nyman.
Rosalind and Howard Joel divorced in 1957. Howard Joel moved to Vienna. Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999), and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006). In 2001, Joel received the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Joel attended Hicksville High School until 1967, but he did not graduate with his class. He had been playing at a piano bar to help his mother make ends meet, which interfered with his attendance; specifically, he missed a crucial English exam, as he had been playing a late-night gig at a piano bar the evening before.
Though Joel was a comparatively strong student, at the end of his senior year, he did not have enough credits to graduate. Rather than attend summer school to earn his diploma, Joel decided to begin a career in music: “I told them, ‘To hell with it.
If I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records, and you don’t need a high school diploma over there’.” Joel eventually signed with Columbia.
In 2013, Joel received the Kennedy Center Honors, the nation’s highest honor for influencing American culture through the arts. Except for the 2007 songs “All My Life” and “Christmas in Fallujah”, Joel stopped writing and releasing pop/rock material after 1993’s River of Dreams.
In November, 2014, Billy Joel will receive The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, which honors living musical artists whose lifetime contributions in the field of popular song exemplify the standard of excellence associated with George and Ira Gershwin, by promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations.
Also in November, 2014, Billy will receive the once-in-a-century ASCAP Centennial Award. This is presented to American music icons in recognition of their incomparable accomplishments in their respective music genres and beyond.
In 2013, Billy Joel held tens of thousands of visitors to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the palm of his hand. It was Joel’s second full-length show in three years He went to New Orleans fresh from Sydney, Australia, where he played a full set at the Stone Music Festival.
Joel and his band prepared a similar array of Joel’s huge collection of hits for Sydney and New Orleans, and mixed in some handpicked tunes specific to the venue at hand. Joel told the crowd, “we know how you felt” since last year’s Hurricane Sandy, referring to Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005. “We’re trying to rebuild. We’re taking inspiration from you guys.”