William Martin Joel was born on May 9, 1949, in the Bronx, New York, to Howard Joel and Rosalind Nyman, both Jewish. Joel grew up in the Levittown section of Hicksville on Long Island and began studying piano in 1953. He attended Hicksville High School but did not graduate as scheduled in 1967 because he overslept on the day of an important exam, since he played late at a piano bar the night before. In 1992, he submitted essays to the school board and was awarded his diploma at Hicksville High's annual graduation ceremony.
In 1963, Joel joined his first band, The Echoes, later known as The Lost Souls. He left the band in 1967 to join The Hassles, a Long Island band that had signed a contract with United Artists Records. Over the next year and a half, they released The Hassles in 1967, Hour of the Wolf in 1968, and four singles, all of which failed commercially. In 1969, after The Hassles broke up, he formed the duo Attila with their drummer Jon Small. They released an album in July 1970 and disbanded the following October. The reason for the group's break-up has been attributed to Joel's affair with Small's wife, Elizabeth, whom Joel eventually married.
Joel signed a solo recording contract and released his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, in 1971. He then moved out to Los Angeles as a result of a contractual dispute and started performing in piano bars under the name Bill Martin. In 1972, a Philadelphia radio station played a recording of his song "Captain Jack," prompting Columbia records to track him down and offer him a recording contract. In 1973, he was signed to Columbia Records by the legendary Clive Davis and recorded the album Piano Man. In 1974, the song "Piano Man" became his first top 20 single and first gold album.
In 1977, Joel began collaborating with producer Phil Ramone and wrote, recorded and released The Stranger. From the time of its release until 1985, the album was Columbia Records' biggest selling album and featured four Top-25 hits on the Billboard charts: "Just the Way You Are," "Movin Out (Anthony's Song)," "Only the Good Die Young" and "She's Always a Woman." Joel released 52nd Street in 1978 and it became his first #1 album.
Joel has been married three times. He married married his business manager, Elizabeth Weber Small on September 5, 1973, and the couple divorced on July 20, 1982. From March 23, 1985, to August 25, 1994, Joel was married to model Christie Brinkley. Their daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, was born on December 29, 1985. On October 2, 2004, Joel married Katie Lee but the couple split after five years of marriage on June 17, 2009.
Joel was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1992, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005. Over the course of his career, he has been nominated for 23 Grammy Awards, is a six-time Grammy Award winner and has sold over 150 million records worldwide.
Photo: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Author: David Shankbone.