Shalom Life | March 21, 2015

Jewish Hall of Fame: Billy Joel

This week's inductee is the "Piano Man" himself

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: November 26th, 2014 in Culture » Music » News

Since the dawn of time, Jewish people have contributed greatly to various fields, from sports to entertainment to politics to porn. With our Breakthrough Jew feature, we recognize those who are up and comers in these various industries, identifying those great innovators and leaders in the contemporary world who are making a mark on society that will last a lifetime.

With the Jewish Hall of Fame, we recognize the remarkable advancements members of our community have made on today's society. These are people who have truly changed the world, and have earned the respect and praise of the members of today's younger generation.

ShalomLife’s Jewish Hall of Fame is our ongoing tribute to the greatest Jews who have ever lived; be sure to catch us weekly with our latest inductees, and tweet us @ShalomLife with your suggestions.

Check out last week's inductee into the Hall of Fame here.

Hall of Fame Member: William Martin Joel

Born: May 9th, 1949, in the Bronx, New York.

Born to Jewish parents Howard and Rosalind Joel in the Bronx, New York, and raised in Levittown, Long Island, William (Billy) Martin Joel had a passion for music from an early age. His father, who was a classical pianist, along with his mother encouraged Joel to learn the piano.

He began studying the instrument at the age of four and continued to master it during his time at Hicksville High School. During his time at school, Joel became so interested in music that he even joined several bands in the area. He also began to play piano at a bar in the evenings to help his family make ends meet. Although he was a brilliant child, and adept student, his low attendance resulted in him missing important assignments and exams. Come the end of his final year, he was still short of enough credits to graduate. Deciding he would rather pursue music than academics, Joel dropped out of school.

In 1970 Joel released the album Cold Spring Harbor after signing on with Family Productions. However, upon the album’s release, Joel was unhappy with the quality of the album, a result of the production company. The record wasn’t successful by any means.

Not long after the failure of his first album, Joel moved to Los Angeles and eventually wound up working as a lounge pianist in 1972. He used the stage name Billy Martin, and during this time Joel would find the inspiration to write his iconic song “Piano Man.” Later that same year one of Joel’s lesser known tracks, “Captain Jack,” began to gain some traction. Columbia Records contacted the lounge artist and offered him the chance to sign with their label.

Not long after beginning with Columbia Records, Joel released his song “Piano Man,” which was a major hit off the album of the same name, landing in the top 20 on the charts. He released the album Streetlife Serenade in 1974, Turnstiles in 1976, and then The Stranger in 1977, not long after he left Los Angeles. The Stranger was a major success for Joel, with four of his songs in the Top 25.

In the early 80’s, Joel released the album Glass Houses which topped the Billboard chart for six weeks straight. From the album “You May Be Right,” “Don’t Ask Me Why,” “Sometimes A Fantasy,” and “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” were all huge hits and critically acclaimed. The record would go on to win a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance and an American Music Award for Favourite Album.

His next album, Songs In The Attic, featured music from his first album and was well received (this time around) by audiences. The Nylon Curtain, was one of his more serious works and dealt with serious issues concerning the American dream. An Innocent Man, which came out in 1983, was his second No. 1 hit, and featured music that was a tribute to doo wop from the 1950’s.


In 1987, Joel was the first American rock artist to play in Russia since the erection of the Berlin Wall. He performed in Moscow, Leningrad and Tbilisi. The concerts were recorded for American audiences back home.

In 1989, Joel received the Grammy Legend Award. Despite the accolade, Joel continued to produce music throughout the remainder of the 80’s and 90’s. In 1999 Joel was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not long after, however, Joel checked himself into rehab to battle alcoholism. It was a struggle he’d been facing his whole life, but only sought treatment for in the early 2000’s.

In 2013, Joel released his first single in over twelve years. The song, “All My Life,” was a hit and well received by audiences. That same year, he received the Gershwin Prize by the Library of Congress. Although mostly retired from producing new music, Joel continues to tour and experiment with his sound.

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