Sir Elton Hercules John, CBE, is one of the most highly acclaimed and successful solo artists of all time. He has achieved 37 gold and 27 multi-platinum albums, has sold more than 250 million records worldwide, and holds the record for the biggest selling single of all time. Over the five decades since his career began in 1969, Elton has played more than 3,500 concerts in over 80 countries.
Elton is the third most successful artist in the history of the American charts, behind only Elvis Presley and the Beatles. He has had 56 top 40 singles in the United States, a total second only to Elvis Presley. He achieved seven #1 albums in the three-and-a-half-year period from 1972 to 1975 — a period of concentrated success surpassed only by the Beatles.
Elton was born on March 25, 1947, in Pinner, Middlesex, England, and given the name Reginald Kenneth Dwight. At the age of three he astonished his family by sitting at the piano and playing The Skater’s Waltz by ear. At the age of 11 he was awarded a scholarship as a Junior Exhibitor at the Royal Academy of Music and he attended the Academy on Saturday mornings for the next four years.
Elton in smart winter coat
Elton playing piano at age 6
Besides his knighthood, Elton’s landmark awards include Best British Male Artist BRIT Award, 1991; Songwriters Hall of Fame (with Bernie Taupin), 1992; Officer of Arts & Letters (France) 1993; induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1994; Polar Music Prize, 1995; MusiCares Person of the Year, 2000; Kennedy Center Honor, 2004; Billboard Magazine Legend of Live Award, 2006; Songwriters Hall of Fame Johnny Mercer Award (with Bernie Taupin), 2013; BRITs Icon Award, 2013; Rockefeller Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 2013 and the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative Leadership Award, 2013. In 2002, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music and in 2004 he became a Fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers.
Elton has won 12 Ivor Novello Awards between 1973 and 2000, been nominated for a Grammy Award 11 times (winning in 1986, 1991, 1994, 1997 and 2000), and received the Grammy Legend Award in 2001. Three of his albums have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, including his 1970 eponymous album. Elton has 3 Oscar Award nominations (winning in 1995), and a Tony Award (with 4 nominations) for Best Original Score for Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida in 2000.
Elton in his teens
Elton’s live performances began in 1962 when he played weekend pub piano at The Northwood Hills hotel and went on to join his first band, The Corvettes. A year later members of this band reformed as Bluesology. Between 1965 and 1967, Elton played keyboard with Bluesology as they gigged throughout the UK, often backing visiting American artists. Elton’s stage name, which became his legal name in 1967, was taken from the Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean, and their lead singer, Long John Baldry.
Writer Bernie Taupin was born in Lincolnshire, UK, on May 22, 1950. In 1967, both Bernie and Elton answered a “Talent Wanted” advert that was placed in the New Musical Express by Liberty Records. Ray Williams at Liberty Records put Elton in touch with Bernie, and they started to write songs together, initially corresponding by mail. They have maintained this method of songwriting throughout their career, and have still never written a song together in the same room. Most unusually, Bernie writes the lyrics first and Elton then composes the music.
In 1968, they became staff songwriters for Dick James’ DJM label. From the start Elton and Bernie were prolific songwriters, writing for other artists as well as creating and recording songs for Elton.
Publicity shot of Elton and Bernie Taupin, 1971
Elton’s touring career in Great Britain began in 1970 when he played clubs such as The Revolution, The Roundhouse, The Marquee and The Speakeasy in London, as well as Mothers in Birmingham and The Twisted Wheel in Manchester. On August 25, 1970, he played his debut concert in America, appearing at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, CA, with his band, which included Nigel Olsson on drums and Dee Murray on bass. The gig received ecstatic reviews and Elton became, literally, an overnight sensation. Since that day he has toured constantly all over North America and throughout the rest of the world.
In 1970, Elton’s self-titled breakthrough album and evergreen hit Your Song introduced him to an international stage, and in the period between 1970 and 1976, with producer Gus Dudgeon at the helm, Elton recorded an astonishing fourteen albums: Elton John; Tumbleweed Connection; 11-17-70; Friends Soundtrack; Madman Across The Water; Honky Chateau; Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player; Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; Caribou; Greatest Hits; Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy; Rock Of The Westies; Here And There and Blue Moves. Amongst these, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy was the first album ever to enter the Billboard Chart at #1. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, with its string of hit singles (Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Bennie And The Jets and Candle In The Wind), and unbroken two-month run at the top of the Billboard Top 100, became and remains an all-time classic.
Elton in feathered glasses, 1974
Many — though certainly not all — of Elton’s greatest hit singles were released during the 1970s: Rocket Man, Honky Cat, Crocodile Rock, Daniel, Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Step Into Christmas, Bennie And The Jets, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, The Bitch Is Back, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Philadelphia Freedom, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, Island Girl, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (the duet with Kiki Dee) and Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. In 1973, Elton founded The Rocket Record Company, and later left DJM to record on his own label.
In 1974, Elton performed on John Lennon’s comeback single Whatever Gets You Thru The Night, and later that year was joined by Lennon onstage at New York’s Madison Square Garden. This performance, always cited by Elton as one of the most memorable of his entire career, was to be John Lennon’s final concert.
Elton’s 1977 sessions with Philly Soul producer Thom Bell gave him with a #1 UK hit in 2003 with Are You Ready For Love, when it was re-released due to demand from influential British DJs.
1980s & 1990s
Elton and Tim Rice with their Oscars, 1995
In the 1980s he had hits with the albums 21 At 33, Jump Up! (which included the smash single Blue Eyes and the much-loved Lennon tribute Empty Garden), and Too Low For Zero, the home of two of Elton’s live favourites, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues and I’m Still Standing.
In 1992 in the US, and in 1993 in the UK, Elton established the Elton John AIDS Foundation, his pioneering charity dedicated to breakthrough work on behalf of those around the world suffering from HIV and related illnesses. Together, the two organizations have raised more than $300 million in support of worthy projects in 55 countries around the world.
1993 saw the release of the double-platinum album The One. During the 1990s Elton collaborated with Tim Rice on music for Disney’s The Lion King , winning a Best Male Pop Grammy, and also his first Academy Award for Can You Feel The Love Tonight? Elton later worked with Tim Rice on the Broadway smash Aida. This musical, which opened in 2000 and gave 1,852 performances, earned four Tonys, including Best Musical Score. Billy Elliot The Musical , with music by Elton John and lyrics by Lee Hall, was launched on the London stage in 2005. It is staggeringly successful with audiences and critics on both sides of the Atlantic and has won multiple awards including 10 Tonys.
Only one artist can have the biggest selling single of all time, and since 1997 Elton has held that record. Candle in the Wind 1997, Elton and Bernie’s heartfelt tribute to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, has sold over 33,000,000 copies, and raised millions for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. In 1998, Elton received a knighthood from HM Queen Elizabeth II for “services to music and charitable services” and became Sir Elton Hercules John, CBE.
Elton onstage in 2007
This millennium has seen Elton at the top of his game, continuing to play frequent, sell-out concerts all over the world. In 2004, Elton and the band began a residency with The Red Piano show at the Caesars Palace Colosseum in Las Vegas. Originally booked for 75 shows over three years, The Red Piano exceeded all expectations and proved so popular with audiences that Elton completed the original commitment in only 18 months, and the run was extended by an additional 166 shows to a final engagement total of 241, ending in April 2009.
Five decades since the 1969 release of his first album, Empty Sky, Elton John continues to create superb music. The 2001 album Songs From The West Coast gave him another smash hit single with I Want Love, as well as the fan favourite, Original Sin. In 2005, following the release of the deluxe edition of Peachtree Road, which included three new songs from Billy Elliot The Musical, Elton achieved another hit single with the Billy Elliot song Electricity. The following year fans were delighted when Elton and Bernie at last wrote a sequel to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, the much-loved The Captain And The Kid.
In 2007, Elton released Rocket Man – The Definitive Hits, a single CD album that features 18 classic hit songs. Also in 2007, for the first time ever, Elton’s entire back catalogue of nearly 500 tracks (90 singles and 32 albums) became available to download legally. In 2010 he recorded a new studio album, The Union, in collaboration with his and Bernie’s musical hero Leon Russell, which was produced by T-Bone Burnett. This international hit album reached #3 in the Billboard Hot 100 album chart and was also voted #3 in Rolling Stone’s top albums of 2010. In April 2011, the Tribeca Film Festival opened with the world premiere of Cameron Crowe’s documentary, The Union, which captured, for the first time ever, the writing and recording of an Elton John album.
The release of Rocket Man marked a huge anniversary for Elton — on March 25, 2007, he celebrated his 60th birthday while breaking his own record with an unmatched 60th concert at the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York.
Elton entered into a civil partnership with David Furnish on December 21, 2005, the first day it was possible to do so in Britain.
Elton in The Million Dollar Piano show, 2011
Elton and David’s first son, Zachary, was born by surrogacy on December 25, 2010, and their second son, Elijah, was born by surrogacy on January 11, 2013. Rocket Pictures, the film company headed up by David Furnish, is highly successful and in 2011 Elton and David were co-producers of the animated film Gnomeo & Juliet, with Elton writing the music. The film took nearly $200,000,000, and plans are now firmly under way for a sequel.
Elton remains committed to his music and has become more, rather than less, busy as time passes. In 2011, as well as touring in Europe, Australia and North America both solo and with his band, now augmented with Croatian duo 2CELLOS, Elton returned to The Colosseum, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas with his all-new show, The Million Dollar Piano. This production received fantastic reviews and included a welcome return to the show for Elton’s former percussionist Ray Cooper. In 2012 he toured North, Central and South America, before heading to Europe. 2012 also gave Elton a UK #1 album, his first in 22 years, with Good Morning To The Night, the remix project by Elton John versus Pnau. This album introduced Elton’s music to a new, young audience who sang along heartily to Your Song when Elton performed it at a summer festival in Ibiza. Elton’s summer tour of Europe included an unforgettable appearance at The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace.
Elton and his band continued to tour throughout 2013, visiting South and North America, Europe, the UK (including a stellar performance at Bestival on the Isle of Wight) and Russia. He also made several television appearances in the US and UK, including the 2013 Grammy Awards — joining Ed Sheeran and a tribute to the late Levon Helm, the Lady Gaga & The Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular, and the BRITs Icon Award, of which he was the first recipient.
In September 2013, Elton released his 31st studio album, The Diving Board, which entered the UK and US charts at #’s 3 and 4 respectively. Its first single, Home Again, entered the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart at #16, making it the 69th time an Elton song has thus appeared — a number that leads all other artists on that chart. The 15-song album, once again produced by T Bone Burnett, was met with great critical acclaim, as were Elton’s promotional appearances at the iTunes Festival in London, the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, and the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. In December, Elton played his 63rd and 64th concerts at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, adding to his incredible number of sold-out performances at that esteemed venue.
2014 saw a Special Edition anniversary release of Elton’s 1973 album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, as well as the DVD and Blu-ray release of The Million Dollar Piano. Elton also appeared on 2014 releases by Smokey Robinson, Bright Light Bright Light, Engelbert Humperdinck and the BBC Music 2014 ensemble for God Only Knows. In addition, The Lion King stage musical, which Elton wrote the music for, was named the highest-grossing production in theater or cinema history.
Elton performed solo, with his band and as a guest artist at 105 concerts and private events during the year, starting with his Follow The Yellow Brick Road Tour show at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown, OH on February 1 and ending with a party-atmosphere concert on New Year’s Eve at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. He played in 20 countries: Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Dominican Republic*, Ecuador*, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Monaco, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA. (* These were Elton’s first performances in these countries.)
Some of the many performance highlights in 2014 included his appearances at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, the Ice Hall Palace in Saint Petersburg (where drummer Nigel Olsson marked his 2000th show with Elton), his duet with Ed Sheeran on Candle In The Wind at his Academy Awards Viewing Party at the Pacific Design Center and his duet with Sara Bareilles on her song Gravity at The Breast Cancer Research Foundation® Hot Pink Party in New York City.
Elton also had some marvelous personal moments during 2014. He and David Furnish got married on December 21 at their home in England and Elton had a stand named after him at his beloved Watford FC Vicarage Road stadium the same month.