William Martin Joel (born May 9, 1949) is an American singer-songwriter, composer and pianist. Commonly nicknamed the “Piano Man”, he has been making music since the 1960s, releasing popular albums throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Joel was born in 1949 in The Bronx, New York, and grew up on Long Island, New York, both places that influenced his music. Joel took part in two short-lived bands, The Hassles and Attila, before beginning a solo career in 1971 with his first solo release, Cold Spring Harbor. In 1972, Joel grabbed the attention of Columbia Records after a live radio performance of the song “Captain Jack” became popular in Philadelphia, prompting him to sign a new record deal with the company and release his second solo album, Piano Man, which contained his first hit single of the same name.
After releasing two more albums, Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles, Joel released his critical and commercial breakthrough album, The Stranger, in 1977; this album became Columbia’s best-selling release, selling over 10 million copies and spawning several hit singles, including “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, “Just the Way You Are”, and “Only the Good Die Young”. A year later, Joel’s album 52nd Street was his first album to peak at #1 on the Billboard 200 charts.
After receiving flack from critics for being soft and releasing too many slow ballad songs, Joel released his seventh studio album, Glass Houses, in an attempt to further establish himself as a rock and roll artist. His next album, The Nylon Curtain, was released in 1982, and stemmed from a desire from Joel to create more lyrically and melodically ambitious music. An Innocent Man, released in 1983, served as an homage to genres of music which Joel had grown up with in the 1950s, such as Rhythm and Blues and doo-wop. After releasing the albums
The Bridge and Storm Front in 1986 and 1989 respectively, Joel released his twelfth and final solo album, River of Dreams, in 1993. He went on to release Fantasies and Delusions, a 2001 album featuring classical compositions composed by Joel and performed by British-Korean pianist Richard Hyung-ki Joo. Joel also provided voiceover work in 1988 for the 27th animated Disney film, Oliver & Company, in which he provided the voice of the character Dodger.
Across the 20 years of his solo career, Joel produced 33 Top 40 hits in the US, all of which he wrote himself, and three of which (“It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, “Tell Her About It”, and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”) managed to top the charts. He is also a six-time Grammy Award winner who has been nominated for 23 Grammy Awards. With over 150 million records sold worldwide, he is one of the best-selling artists of all time as well as the sixth best-selling recording artist and the third best-selling solo artist in the United States. His 1985 compilation album, Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2, is one of the best-selling albums in the US.
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. In 2013, Joel received the Kennedy Center Honors, the nation’s highest honor for influencing American culture through the arts. Since the advent of his solo career, Joel has held a successful touring career, holding live performances across the globe in which he sings several of his written songs.
In 1987, he became one of the very first artists to hold a rock and roll tour in the Soviet Union following the country’s alleviation of the ban on rock and roll music. Despite retiring from writing and releasing pop music following the release of The River of Dreams (with the exception of the two singles “All My Life” and “Christmas in Fallujah”, which were both released in 2007), he continues to tour, with the Madison Square Garden in Manhattan frequently serving as a performance spot. Joel has been in several relationships, including marriages to Elizabeth Weber Small, model Christie Brinkley, and Katie Lee. Since 2015, he has been married to Alexis Roderick, his 4th spouse.