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Billy Joel Surprises With Two Songs at High School Graduation

Singer shares memories and answers questions from students

Billy Joel hosts a school-wide assembly in the Tony Bennett Concert Hall at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in New York City.
Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Exploring The Arts
May 31, 2013 11:50 AM ET

Billy Joel surprised an assembly of students at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens on Thursday when he showed up to answer questions and perform a pair of songs on different pianos at the school for 400 students. 

Joel appeared with Tony Bennett, who opened the school through his Exploring the Arts Program in 2001. Currently, Bennett's program supports 14 schools in New York and will launch three schools in Los Angeles by the end of this year, according to The Associated Press

Readers' Poll: The Ten Best Billy Joel Albums

In between performing "New York State of Mind" and "She's Got a Way," Joel participated in a Q&A with students in the audience, beginning with "What do you think is one of your biggest mistakes?"

"My biggest mistake was signing a lot of contracts that I didn't know what they were about," Joel said. " "I signed away a lot of my rights – record royalties, publishing rights, copyrights and it took me years to get that stuff back." The singer released his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, in 1971.

The singer also granted requests, which included a hug for one student as the rest of the assembly cheered, and signing yearbooks. 

One student asked who Joel's favorite collaborator was, to which he responded, "Elle McPherson. That was a good collaboration." Joel dated the Australian supermodel in the 1980s.

Joel, who never graduated high school but was given an honary degree 25 years later, has made numerous appearances at colleges and universities over the years, including one visit to Vanderbilt that went viral.

The Grammy winner has said that his time at school did deeply affect him, thanks to one teacher. "I had a good chorus teacher and he encouraged me to become a musician. That's my greatest memory of school – an adult said, 'You should consider becoming a professional musician'"

"I'd never heard (that) before in my life and that kind of changed my life," he continued. 

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