Born William Martin Joel in The Bronx, in 1949, Billy Joel studied piano as a child and became an acclaimed pianist and songwriter. Although he joined a band called the Echoes, his early recording experience came from playing studio piano for recording sessions, and it was in this role that he performed in “The Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las.
Billy Joel continued playing with the Echoes as they became the Emeralds and then the Lost Souls, while continuing to play sessions. He then played with a rock and roll band called the Hassles, and then in a duo called Attila, releasing three albums and two singles, none of which were successful.
In 1971, Billy Joel launched a solo career with a debut album entitled Cold Spring Harbor. An error in mastering caused the speeds to be too fast on several songs, and the error was not fixed until 1984. Nevertheless, Billy Joel went on a live tour, mixing songs with stand-up comedy, and received favorable reviews.
"Piano Man," Billy Joel’s first Top 40 hit single, was also the source of the title of his first album for Columbia Records. His next album, Streetlife Serenade reached number 35. The following album, Turnstiles, did not do as well, but The Stranger, which followed, reached number two and went platinum. It was the source of the Top 40 single hit “Just the Way You Are,” and between the song and the album, Billy Joel won both the Song of the Year and the Record of the Year Grammy in 1978.
Billy Joel has had a number of other Top 40 hits, but greater triumphs were yet to come. In 1987, he became one of the earliest US rock performers to play in the USSR since the building of the Berlin Wall. In 1991, Billy Joel was honored with a Grammy Living Legend Award. In 2002, Twyla Tharp directed and choreographed a Broadway musical of Joel’s music called Movin’ Out. In 2006, he set a record with 12 sold-out concerts at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. On February 4, 2007, Billy Joel became the first performer to sing the national anthem at two Super Bowls.