Pianist Spotlight: Billy Joel, The Modern-Day Piano Man

Billy Joel

Sing us a song, you’re the piano man.
Sing us a song tonight
Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feelin’ alright

If you’ve ever visited a piano bar, you may understand what Billy Joel is singing about in his legendary song, “Piano Man”. For a piano man, sheet music is not always part of the equation. Lounge patrons often call out the names of songs they would like to hear, and the pianist is expected to quickly comply and keep the patrons happy and in a celebratory mood.

For Billy, the song honors his time working as a lounge pianist after his first solo album was a bust. Fortunately, he worked through that and became one of the most popular recording artists in the world, having sold over 150 million records.

Who is Billy Joel?

William Martin “Billy” Joel is a pianist, singer-songwriter, and composer. He was born on May 9, 1949 in the Bronx, New York and raised in Hicksville by his Jewish immigrant parents. His father was a classical pianist, and his mother insisted he take piano lessons when he was just four years old, although Billy was resistant. His mother knew that professional lessons were the key to learning the piano, especially at such a young age.

The piano lessons paid off, as  Billy quickly showed a talent for music and the piano. By the time he was 16, he had already been in three bands. While still in high school, he put his piano lessons to further use and took a job at a piano bar to help his family make ends meet. Little did he know at the time that this would be the start of his musical career.

Billy’s Music Career

Inspired by a performance by the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, Billy devoted himself to becoming a rock star and producing his first solo album, “Cold Spring Harbor”. The album was released in 1970, but unfortunately, it was not as successful as he had hoped.

This could have been where his career stalled, as happens for many musicians, but Billy instead used his training and experiences to his advantage. He moved to Los Angeles and landed a gig working as a lounge pianist at the Executive Room, and wrote about his time working under the pseudonym Bill Martin. “Piano Man” became his first hit, and even today, young pianists enjoy learning the “Piano Man” sheet music.

Check out the music video for “Piano Man” here:

By the 1980s, Billy had several hits, including “Uptown Girl”, “Tell Her About It”, and “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. He performed all over the world, and with many other musicians, including Cyndi Lauper, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Elton John.

Although Billy retired from recording in 1993, he still continues to tour today.

Awards and Recognition

With 33 Top 40 hits, and six Grammys (including the Grammy Legend Award), Billy has received the recognition he deserves. Some of his other awards include:

  • Induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992)
  • Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999)
  • Johnny Mercer Award (2001)
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame star (2004)
  • Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song (2014)
  • ASCAP Centennial Award (2014)

Feeling Inspired?

If you are interested in learning the piano, you’ll need more than just the “Piano Man” sheet music. You’ll need to take a lesson from the modern-day piano man himself and invest in professional instruction! Private piano instruction was what gave Billy the skills he needed to become an accomplished pianist.

Even though he is now a world-famous recording artist, Billy Joel is still a Piano Man at heart. Throughout his life and musical career, he has used music to inspire, motivate, and bring happiness to people all over the world. When we’re in the mood for a melody, he’s got us feelin’ alright.


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Photo by Samira Khan

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