Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, Elton John lived in a council house with his parents and grandparents in the 1950s, and listened avidly to the Big Band records and rock 'n roll his parents played. His family was not wealthy, but it was rich in music. He began playing the piano when he was three.
At age eleven he entered the Royal Academy of Music on a scholarship. A professor played him a four-page piece by Handel, and he promptly played it back for her "'like a gramophone record'" (Wikipedia). By then he was already "dashing off good melodies". Between the ages of fifteen and twenty he lived at home with his mother and stepfather and played piano in a pub.
He was twenty when serendipity brought him and lyricist Bernie Taupin together - they both applied to Liberty Records at the same time - and they began writing songs for other musicians. It was around this time that he changed his name. This was an affirmation he wanted to be a different musician, the artist of his soul, singing his own songs. That took a few more years.
In the 1970s the Elton John Band came together, and John's "impassioned performances and over-the-top fashion sense" created a series of top-selling albums and hits that received critical acclaim.
Genius, Addiction and Recovery
Bernie Taupin, who was born in Lincolnshire in 1950, knows how swiftly Elton John writes music. Others are staggered at the speed at which he turns out songs. Over the last four decades Elton John has sold over 250 million records and has had over 50 Top 40 hits, making him one of the most successful musicians of all time, despite struggling with drug abuse and alcoholism. He hit bottom more than once, but always managed to overcome despair and rekindle his career. Here in Ephesus, Turkey, he sings a song that describes that journey and became a door for him - The Circle of Life -
Distrustful of religion, he composes music laced with spiritual yearning, or so it seems to us. His anthem for Diana, Princess of Wales, captured the loss many felt about their own lost dreams.
A complex man, Elton John collects porcelain, shares his life with David Furnish, and is the life-long President of the Watford Football Club. To say he spends lavishly would be a bit of an understatement. He also gives generously to charity, including the Elton John AIDs Foundation, which helps men and women diagnosed with AIDs.
When his single "Candle in the Wind", his tribute to the Princess, climbed to the top of the charts, he sent the £55 million proceeds to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. His "support of young artists" and new music continues.
Elton John left a film showing of Billy Elliot in tears. He went on to write the music for the Billy Elliot musical which Charles Spencer of the Telegraph called 'the greatest British musical I've seen'.
'The heart of the theatrical experience is a boy standing alone in a spotlight, explaining to a hostile community – and to the audience – why ballet makes him come alive and transforms his life. It is that directness of connection between the boy and the audience – the exhilaration of seeing the physical incarnation of his dreams – that makes the show’s emotional appeal so powerful'.
Elton John has also known the physical incarnation of dreams - and how terrifying and exhilerating that can be. For years he has challenged his fears to compose and play music in the spotlight.
Here he is with a classical orchestra playing 'Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word'. The lyrics are by Bernie Taupin.
Elton John CBE
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