Billy Joel: His Career Then & Now

Billy Joel and Elton John attend the Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala on November 7, 2017 in New York City.
October 5, 2019 - 10:30 / Cynthia Springer

At age 70, Billy Joel has lived a long life of career successes and woes. Joel is one of the most renowned musicians, having multiple awards on his musical resume, and selling over 150 million records worldwide. He's been nicknamed the "Piano Man" because of this hit song, which created breakthrough success for the artist. Let's take a look at his life then and now!

Born on May 9th, 1949 in the Bronx, New York, Billy Joel grew up with a classically-trained pianist father, and a mother who was insistent that Billy learn how to play the instrument. By the time he was age 16, Joel had excelled at playing piano, having been in three bands before he had his driver's license. Although he was a musical prodigy, he failed to pass an English class in high school, thus not being able to graduate.

Billy Joel: A professional pianist by age 16

Billy Joel takes part in a press conference honoring his 100th Lifetime Performance at Madison Square Garden on July 18, 2018 in New York City.

The start of songwriting & singing

By the mid-1960s, Joel was inspired by many genres of music, including music from The Beatles and Ray Charles. He had been apart of three different bands at this point, one of which he had an affair with his band member's wife (Elizabeth Small). Small and Joel would later marry in 1973. Nevertheless, in 1971, Joel had signed a contract with the record company Family Productions, who released his debut album, Cold Spring Harbor. Unfortunately, the album was poorly produced, and ended up being a commercial disaster.

Billy Joel performing live in the U.K., June 7th 1984.

By the following year, Joel left the East Coast to move to Los Angeles, where he signed with Columbia Records. It was during this time where he played under the pseudonym "Bill Martin" at a piano bar and began performing his future iconic hit "Piano Man". In 1973, Joel released his next album with Columbia, where his signature song became a huge success and he started touring throughout the U.S. and Canada.

His next albums

From 1974-1986, Joel released eight more studio albums. All were incredible commercial successes. The Stranger (1977) surpassed Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge over Troubled Water in sales, which was Columbia's prior best-selling album. He would then sell over 7 million copies of the album, 52nd Street (1978). Additionally, Joel and his album won Grammy's for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male and Album of the Year. Throughout the 1980s, Joel had everyone singing along to his songs like, "Uptown Girl" and "Innocent Man".

Billy Joel performs at 'Billy Joel In Concert' in Madison Square Garden on May 25, 2017 in New York City.

Further achievements

In 1989, Joel received the Grammy Legend Award. He continued to tour, mostly alone, but sometimes also with his dear friend and fellow musician, Elton John. By 1999, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by no less than his idol, Ray Charles. In 2013, he received the Kennedy Center Honors, and has been presented with many honorary doctorates during this time. He also finally turned in a few essays to his high school, graduating 25 years later.

Elton John and Billy Joel at the 2000 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California.

Today, the music legend is married to equestrian, Alexis Roderick. The couple have two daughters together and have been together since 2009. Joel also has another daughter with his former wife and model, Christie Brinkley. Outside of his personal life, Joel has a residency at Madison Square Garden in New York, where his shows continuously sell out. At this residency alone, over 1.23 million tickets have been sold, with nearly 70 performances. His last album was in 2001, and so far, he has no further plans to record anymore. Having a career gross of $896 million probably has something to do with that.

Alexis Roderick Joel and Billy Joel attend the Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala on November 7, 2017 in New York City.