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The Life and Rhymes of Elton John

Entertaining the world for over five decades, the musical legend that is Elton John has become the second bestselling British musical act of all time.

Musician in the Making

Just after the end of the Second World War, a boy called Reginald Kenneth Dwight was born in the London suburb of Pinner; he would go on to become one of the bestselling recording artists of all time. For more than 50 years, he has been known as Elton John, and this is the story of a living music legend.

Astounding his family, the opening bars of the story come from The Skater’s Waltz, which three-year-old Reggie played on piano by ear. His obvious talent was encouraged, and a classical music education followed. At the age of 11, he received a scholarship to attend the Royal Academy of Music and he went there on Saturday mornings until he was 15. During these formative years, it was the swagger of American rock ’n’ roll artists, such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, who sparked his passion. By mimicking the outrageous performance style of these piano players, he was able to break free of his reserved nature and by his teenage years, he was pursuing his dream of becoming an entertainer.

After leaving school at 16, he began working for a music publishing company by day and playing in the band Bluesology by night. The band had little success but its musicians were talented and dedicated, which earned the group regular gigs as the backing band for touring musicians such as The Isley Brothers and Patti LaBelle.

Liberty Wants Talent

The defining moment in Elton John’s phenomenal career traces back to a music press advert that appeared in New Musical Express on 17 June 1967. The headline read ‘Liberty Wants Talent’ and attracted a response from 20-year-old Reg Dwight and a 17-year-old lyricist called Bernie Taupin. Ray Williams, the man at Liberty Records who placed the ad, spotted something in them and suggested the two work together. With that, one of the greatest songwriting partnerships in pop music history was formed.

The duo became roommates, developing a brotherly bond and sharing experiences that would fuel the lyrics of some of their most popular songs. At first, they wrote songs for other artists, and then Reg Dwight took on the name Elton John and began singing the songs himself. Released in 1969, his first album Empty Sky received little fanfare but enough to warrant a follow-up, Elton John (1970), which included the hugely popular ‘Your Song’, which was written in just 15 minutes over breakfast. His creative output at this time was extraordinary and he produced album after album of brilliant material, and the fans loved it all. From 1972 to 1975, Elton John delivered seven consecutive number one albums in the United States.

Record-Breaking Residencies

Elton John enjoyed his success but the meteoric rise took its toll. He developed a drug and alcohol addiction that would affect him for almost 20 years. He attempted to retire from performing in 1977 but didn’t manage to stay away for long. In 1979, a much-heralded series of performances in Moscow played a role in helping to ease Cold War tension and demonstrated the compassion he has shown in his career.

In the mid 1980s, when many feared sharing public spaces with people infected with HIV or AIDS, Elton joined music icons Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder in performing the charity single ‘That’s What Friends Are For’. He also credited his friendship with AIDS sufferer Ryan White for inspiring him to enter rehab in 1990. In 1992, he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation in the US, followed by a UK version in 1993. In the decades since, these foundations have raised millions for treatment, research and support.

Stand out Achievements

From the 1990s, Elton John’s music and style influenced the work of his admirers, with many wishing to work or sound like him, including Eminem, George Michael, Scissor Sisters, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Lady Gaga. In his own studio recordings, he returned to the sound and style of his 1970s output with Songs From The West Coast (2001) and Peachtree Road (2004). He was also able to acknowledge Leon Russell, a great influence on his work, on The Union, which was released in 2010.

Other standout achievements have been his record-breaking residencies at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. With visuals by David LaChapelle, ‘The Red Piano’ was a critical and popular success as can be judged by the length of the run, from 2004 to 2009. ‘The Million Dollar Piano’ swiftly followed, and ran from 2011 to 2018.


Farewell Yellow Brick Road

After more than five decades of recording and performing, Elton John decided to step back from the limelight and spend time with his family. He married David Furnish, his long-term partner, in 2014 and they have two boys, Zachary and Elijah. Although he’s not quite retired yet, his ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ tour is still circling the globe entertaining his fans and bringing the house down every night.

Elton John has sold over 300 million records worldwide and has given more than 4,000 performances to date. He is the second bestselling British musical act of all time behind The Beatles, and is the most successful solo male artist in the United States’ chart history. He has helped break down barriers, challenging and contributing to a change in perceptions about sexuality, and has spent decades championing good causes, most notably the fight against AIDS. An undisputed music legend, Elton John is one of the world’s most influential cultural figures.

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