William Martin "Billy" Joel (born May 9, 1949, in Bronx, New York) is an American singer, pianist, and songwriter.
Joel recorded many popular hit songs and albums from 1973 (beginning with the single "Piano Man") to his retirement from recording pop music in 1993. He is one of the very few rock or even pop artists to have Top 10 hits in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. A six-time Grammy Award winner, he has sold in excess of 100 million records worldwide and is the sixth best selling artist in the United States, according to the RIAA. Joel's induction into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame (Class of 1992), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Class of 1999), and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (Class of 2006) has further solidified his status as one of America's leading music icons. He has continued to tour occasionally in addition to writing and recording classical music.
Joel first lived in the South Bronx, in New York City, but his family soon moved to Hicksville, Long Island. Often he himself, along with many in the media, have confused this with him living in neighboring Levittown, NY (formed 1947). In truth, Joel lived on Meeting Lane in Hicksville, a town that has existed since 1648, near the Levittown border, in a section of town where Post-WW2, there were houses developed by Abe Levitt, known as Levitt Houses, thus forming nearby Levittown. His father, Howard (né: Helmut) Joel, was a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Germany, whose father Karl Amson Joel owned the fourth largest mail order company in Germany before being dispossessed by the Nazis. His mother, Rosalind Nyman, was born in England, to an agnostic Jewish family. His parents later divorced, and his father moved back to Eastern Europe. His half-brother Alexander Joel is an acclaimed classical pianist and conductor in Europe, now living in New York.
From an early age Joel had an intense interest in music; especially classical music. He began piano lessons at an early age, and his interest in music instead of sports was the source for much teasing and bullying in his early years. As a teenager, Joel took up boxing so that he would be able to defend himself. He boxed successfully on the amateur Golden Gloves circuit for a short time, but abandoned the sport shortly after having his nose broken in a boxing match.
Joel attended Hicksville High School, and was to have graduated in 1967. However, he was one English credit short of the graduation requirement; he overslept on the day of an important exam due to his late-night musician's lifestyle. Faced with a summer in school to complete this requirement, he decided not to continue. He left high school without a diploma to begin a career in music. In 1992, the English credit requirement was waived by the Hicksville School Board and he received his diploma at Hicksville High's graduation ceremony 25 years after he left the school.
At the age of 14 Joel joined his first band, The Echoes (which later became The Lost Souls). According to producer Shadow Morton, Joel was also the pianist on the Shangri-Las hit "Remember (Walking In The Sand)". In 1966, he joined The Hassles, a Long Island band that had some local success ("Every Step I Take," "You Got Me Hummin'"). The Hassles released two albums The Hassles (1967) and Hour of the Wolf (1968) on the United Artists record label. Following The Hassles' demise in 1969, he formed the pop rock duo Attila with Hassles drummer Jon Small. Attila released their eponymous debut album in July 1970 and disbanded the following October.
Upon losing his record contract with Attila, Joel suffered severe depression, and was admitted into Meadowbrook Hospital after ingesting furniture polish in a half-hearted suicide attempt. The note he left eventually became the lyrics to his song "Tomorrow Is Today." Upon release from Meadowbrook Hospital in early 1971, he began to re-explore his place in the music business, including the participation in a television commercial with Chubby Checker and the contribution of rock criticism to a music magazine called Changes.