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William Martin "Billy" Joel (born May 9, 1949) is an American singer, pianist, songwriter, and composer. He released his first hit song, "Piano Man", in 1973. According to the RIAA, he is the sixth best selling artist in the United States.
Joel had Top 10 hits in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, is a six-time Grammy Award winner and has sold in excess of 150 million albums worldwide. He was inducted 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). Joel retired from recording pop music in 1993 but continued to tour (sometimes with Elton John). In 2001 he subsequently released Fantasies & Delusions, a CD of classical compositions for piano. In 2007 he returned to recording with a single entitled "All My Life", followed by a rather large "World Tour" from 2005-2007, covering many of the major world cities.
Born in the Bronx, New York, Joel was raised in Hicksville, New York. His father Howard was originally from Germany where his father (Billy Joel's grandfather) Karl Amson Joel had 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 Vienna, Austria. His sister Judith Joel, and 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 European classical music. He reluctantly began piano lessons at an early age at his mother's insistence. His interest in music instead of sports was the source of teasing and bullying in his early years. (He has said in interviews that his piano instructor also taught ballet. This led neighborhood bullies to mistakenly think he was learning to dance.) 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 (winning twenty-two bouts), but abandoned the sport shortly after having his nose broken in his twenty-fourth 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. Despite the Vietnam War and the draft, Joel performed no military service. Because he was the sole provider for his mother and sister the selective service gave him an exemption . 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.
The Hassles released two albums (The Hassles in 1967 and Hour of the Wolf, 1968) on the United Artists record label. Following The Hassles' demise in 1969, he formed the keyboard-and-drums based heavy metal duo Attila with Hassles drummer Jon Small. Attila released their eponymous debut album in July 1970 and disbanded the following October.
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