Elton John


singer and composer (born March 25, 1947, in London, England)

A force of nature in the world of music, Sir Elton John is one of the most successful and influential musical artists of all time. His artistic reach is long, his generosity breathtaking and his presence powerful not only in popular music but also on the Broadway stage, on the Hollywood screen and beyond. Since his intensely personal 1970 ballad "Your Song," this inimitable Rocket Man of a piano man has conquered a field usually dominated by guitars and broke Elvis Presley’s record for the most consecutive years of Top 40 hits on the Billboard charts with 24 consecutive years on top. He has sold more than 60 million albums to date, and his work is far from over.

Not one to be contained by musical or any other borders, John also has made his mark as a humanitarian of selfless devotion, a persuasive AIDS warrior, as a fearless champion of free speech. From "Crocodile Rock" and "Daniel" to "Bennie and the Jets" and "Candle in the Wind," from The Lion King to Aida, and from his Watford Football Club to today’s Elton John AIDS Foundation, here is an artist and humanist whose brilliance is drenched in love.

His first hit was a love song. Like much of his work, John’s gentle "Your Song" remains a deceptively simple little gem. It is both a song and a song about a song, unabashedly romantic art reflecting on timeless art, post-modernism revealed to the masses: "And you can tell everybody this is your song / It may be quite simple but now that it's done / I hope you don't mind, I hope you don't mind that I put down in words / How wonderful life is while you're in the world." In the decades that have followed, John has emerged in serious rock and roll armor from his tender 1970 debut. His enigmatic 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was both a straightforward musical meditation and a cultural snapshot of an era that would keep semioticians busy for years. He was a pioneer in moving rock music into ever-larger arenas, which nevertheless seemed somehow barely big enough for John’s outrageously theatrical, larger-than-life spectacles. His participation in the heartbreaking 1985 AIDS fundraiser "That’s What Friends Are For" and his own "Candle in the Wind 1997", a heartfelt tribute to the late Princess of Wales that sold more than 33 million copies, helped the world grieve and helped usher in a spirit of hope. The son of a Royal Air Force trumpet player, the future Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25, 1947, in the London suburb of Pinner. He taught himself the piano at the age of four. At eleven, he won a scholarship to a program for gifted children in the venerable Royal Academy of Music, where he was grounded in the classics even as his heart belonged to rock and roll. He left school after six years, joined the band Bluesology, changed his name to Elton John, and began appearing in London cabarets. An audition for Liberty Records did not yield much more than a promise, but it was at Liberty in 1967, that John met Bernie Taupin. The pair became a songwriting team in 1968, and the hit-making machine of John’s music and Taupin’s lyrics has not stopped ever since.

"Your Song" made Elton John a household name on both sides of the Atlantic in 1970, then the album Tumbleweed Connection that followed fast that same year only solidified his grip on the public imagination. The 1970s were truly his, with 1972’s "Rocket Man" marking the start of a four-year streak of 16 Top 20 hits in a row. He founded Rocket Records in 1973, producing albums by Neil Sedaka and Kiki Dee. He co wrote "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" with John Lennon, and he persuaded the ex-Beatle back onstage for a 1975 Madison Square Garden concert on Thanksgiving Day that was Lennon’s last live performance.

John’s singles "Crocodile Rock" and the ineffably moving "Daniel" became classics. His albums Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Caribou, the precocious Greatest Hits, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, and the fun-punning Rock of the Westies, all released between 1973 and 1975, each went platinum. Captain Fantastic, also from 1975, became the first album in history to enter the American charts in the No. 1 spot. The frantic pace slowed a tad in 1976, when an exhausted John announced he would cut back his live appearances and record only one album a year. Still, the 1980s saw little slowing down in John and Taupin’s Top 40 singles, all the way to 1990’s "Sacrifice"—a hit spawned by the album Sleeping with the Past that became John’s first No. 1 hit in his British homeland. In 1993, The One became the first album ever to receive multi-platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, the same year his collaboration with Tim Rice for the soundtrack of Disney’s The Lion King entered the Top Forty. In 1995, it was his "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from The Lion King that earned John his first Grammy for Best Vocal Pop Performance.

The stage version of The Lion King opened on Broadway in November 1997 garnering 10 Tony nominations and winning the Tony for Best Musical. He followed the extraordinary success of his first musical with AIDA, which opened on Broadway in March 2000 with five Tony nominations, and the Tony Award for Best Score.

He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1998, the year after "Candle in the Wind 1997" became the biggest selling single in history. He continues his work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation to this day; John has given more than $20 million to help people living with HIV and AIDS. He is returning to musicals, on the heels of AIDA and The Lion King, with a project to be based on the film Billy Elliot, premiering at Victoria Palace in London in March 2005. The music goes on. That is his gift of hope.
September 2004
Photo of Elton John