Where did the “Piano Man” hang his hat when he was a young man?
Billy Joel was born in New York City on May 9, 1949. His family moved to Hicksville, on Long Island, when he was 1 year old, which is where he grew up.
Stick around to learn more about the early life of Billy Joel, which included skipping-class to play piano in New York clubs until 3 am.
A Young Billy Joel
William “Billy” Martin Joel and his younger sister Judy were raised on Long Island, an area of New York State.
Billy’s father was a German Jew and his family was forced to emigrate to the United States in order to escape the Nazi regime. His mother was also Jewish but was born in New York.
Billie began playing piano when he was 4 years old, at his mother’s insistence. He had notable musicians as teachers: Morton Estrin and Timothy Ford. He’s shared that he is better at playing the organ than the piano.
The young Billy attended Hicksville High School, where he attended music club and also took up boxing. He left school in 1967 but did not graduate along with the rest of his class.
In 1996, Billy Joel talked to fans about his school days in a Q&A. He said, “I wasn’t showing up for school…I was working ‘til three o’ clock in the morning.”
He continued, “You know, look, we’re in New York. Clubs stay open—three o’ clock, four o’ clock. People wanna hear music, you play the music. 7 o’clock—my goodness! Who would get up at 7 o’clock? For what? For gym?…So, sometimes I wouldn’t go. I’m sorry mom.”
He went on to say that a particular teacher at his high school told him, “You should be a musician. You should be a professional musician.”
Billy recalled the time in his life, saying, “Now for a teacher to say that, that’s like condemning someone to a life of y’know poverty, drug-taking, alcoholism, failure, and anonymity.” The audience roared with laughter at Billy Joel’s remarks.
He carried on, “‘You should be a bum’ is basically what he was saying. But he was saying ‘you have all the prerequisites—you have a great ear, you have talent.’”
“And I thought, ‘a teacher is telling me this.’ It had a huge influence on me,” he concluded.
It was good fortune that the teacher had encouraged Billy to take up music as a career since the final year student was unable to graduate high school with the rest of his class—he missed an important English exam.
He’d been up late the night before performing at a piano bar and apparently didn’t wake up in time. Faced with the prospect of attending summer school to make up for missed credits, Billie decided to drop out of school and instead pursue a career in music.
The star revealed, “I told them, ‘To hell with it. If I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records, and you don’t need a highschool diploma over there.’”
However, 25 years later, when the singer was 43 years old, he submitted essays to the school to make up for the missed exam.
The school accepted the very late homework in lieu of the decades-ago exam. Billy Joel collected his diploma at Hicksville High’s annual graduation ceremony in 1992.
It turns out you don’t always need an education to succeed, since Billy Joel went on to become one of the best-selling artists of all time, with over 150 million records sold worldwide.
The “Piano Man” has an estimated net worth of $225 million.
Listen to the hit “Piano Man” below.