Rosalind Nyman Joel, mother of singer-songwriter Billy Joel and the inspiration for several of the superstar's songs, died Sunday in hospice care on Long Island, surrounded by her friends and family. She was 92.
Though Joel spent her later years supporting various charitable endeavors and enjoying an active social life, it was her love of the performing arts and support of her son that ended up helping to shape music history.
"I've got music in my hands," Billy Joel sings in "Rosalinda's Eyes," a tribute to his mother from the multiplatinum 1978 album, "52nd Street." "The work is hard to find, but that don't get me down. Rosalinda understands."
After all, music was always a major part of her life.
Rosalind Nyman was born on Feb. 15, 1922, in Brooklyn to English emigrants Philip and Rebecca Nyman. She met Howard Joel, whose family had escaped Nazi Germany in 1939, in a student musical production at City College of New York in 1942. (To commemorate that meeting, Billy Joel endowed the Rosalind Joel Scholarship for the Performing Arts in 1986, an award still given to City College of New York students.)
Though World War II would interrupt their courtship, Howard returned to Rosalind after his service in the U.S. Army and they married in 1946. Their son, William Martin Joel, was born in May 1949, and later the family adopted Judy, the daughter of Rosalind's late sister, Muriel.
Shortly after Billy Joel was born, the family moved from the Bronx to Hicksville.
Rosalind and Howard Joel divorced in 1957, with Howard returning to Germany and Rosalind left to raise her family as a single mother. She did clerical work for various businesses near the family home to pay the bills.
However, Billy Joel didn't feel disadvantaged by his upbringing. "I think I was less angry and resentful than my friends who had dictator fathers," Billy Joel told Newsweek in 1978. "I was brought up by women -- my mother and my sister -- who were tender and loving."
Billy Joel attributes part of his inventiveness as a songwriter to having to practice piano while his mother listened. Instead of actually learning the works of Beethoven, for example, he would make up music that sounded like Beethoven so his mother would think he was doing his lessons.
"We always knew he was talented as a kid," Rosalind Joel told Newsday in 2002, at the opening of the Broadway musical, "Movin' Out." "Am I excited? Sure, it's unbelievable . . . But I'll tell you, after 30 years of this, you calm down after a while. To me, he's just a very talented boy and a very good son."
In addition to her children, Joel is survived by her sister, Bertha Miller of Ohio; and two granddaughters, Alexa Ray Joel and Rebecca Molinari Gehrkin.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in her name to The Little Shelter, 33 Warner Rd., Huntington, NY 11743.