By Danny Schrafel
“I play nights in the Spanish part of town – I’ve got music in my hands. The work is hard to find, but that don’t get me down – Rosalinda understands.”
That line comprises the first verse of “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” a Latin-flavored album cut found on Billy Joel’s 1978 record, “52nd Street.” The record, which followed his breakout hit “The Stranger,” is a standout in the Joel discography, and the song was inspired by his mother, Rosalind Joel. It was the type of song, Joel has said in interviews, that he wishes his father had written for his mother.
Rosalind Nyman Joel, a longtime Huntington Bay resident, died July 13, her son announced in a post on his official website. She was 92.
From a young age, Joel said his mother was a champion of his musical education, joking that she made him take lessons after she got sick of hearing him bang away at the piano as a little boy, playing what he later called “the thunder song.”
According to an Instagram post by Billy Joel’s ex-wife Christie Brinkley, that passion burned bright right until the very end.
In the last 12 months, Brinkley wrote, Rosalind Nyman Joel saw her son receive the Kennedy Center Honors from President Barack Obama, witnessed her son launch an acclaimed monthly concert franchise at Madison Square Garden – she was welcomed on a first-name basis there, Brinkley writes – and saw her granddaughter’s performing career emerge.
“And her eyes sparkled with pride and joy as the former Gilbert & Sullivan chorus girl watched her granddaughter Alexa perform at the famed Cafe Carlyle surrounded by a large group of her friends enjoying themselves,” Brinkley wrote. “I know as a mom myself that when you see your kids happy, healthy and enjoying their passions you feel content and happy. ‘Rosalinda’s Eyes’ will live on not only in the song inspired by her, but in Billy, and Alexa... and Nanny Roz herself would find that worth celebrating.”
Born in Brooklyn on Feb. 15, 1922, Rosalind met her husband, Howard, in 1942 during a student musical production at the City College of New York. He was a German immigrant whose family had escaped Nazi Germany in 1939. World War II interrupted their courtship, but after Howard’s service in the U.S. Army, they married in 1946. Their son, Billy, was born in May 1949; later, they adopted Judy, daughter of Rosalind’s late sister Muriel.
Howard and Rosalind Joel divorced in 1957, and Rosalind made ends meet doing clerical work for various businesses near their Hicksville home. But she always kept a focus on advancing Billy’s musical education and finding the money amidst lean times to pay for lessons.
“My mother was the one who paid for the piano lessons. My dad didn’t really push me because he wasn’t around,” Billy Joel told Alec Baldwin during a 2010 interview. “I would have been quite happy not to take piano lessons at all. [But] every week, even after they’d split up, my mother was the one who pushed me to take the piano lessons.”
The end result turned out to be one of the world’s most enduring libraries of popular music.
Rosalind Joel was a fixture in the Huntington community.
Huntington Arts Council Executive Director Diana Cherryholmes recalled that she enjoyed the Long Island Philharmonic, the Huntington Community Band, thrift shopping and garage sales.
Years ago, Cherryholmes bumped into her at the Community Chest thrift shop on Elm Street.
“She was pushing her cart, looking at stuff just like I was, and she was singing jazz standards,” Cherryholmes said. “Her voice just carried so well.”
When they reached the checkout together, Cherryholmes complimented her singing, to which Rosalind replied, “Did you know that my son is Billy Joel?”
“She was just very proud of him and she wanted everyone to know,” Cherryholmes said, recalling that, ahead of a surprise appearance at Heckscher Park in 2006, it was his mom, not a publicist, who tipped off the media that her son would be there.
Huntington Bay resident Deb Colton said she encountered Rosalind Joel while Colton walked her Golden Retriever, Amy, about five years ago. She recalled her as a feisty, friendly woman who loved animals.
“Every time she saw me walking, we’d have a little chat – usually about animals. She was a very nice woman,” Colton said.
In addition to Billy Joel, Rosalind Joel is survived by her daughter, Judy Molinari; sister, Bertha Miller; and two grandchildren, Alexa Ray Joel and Rebecca Molinari Gehrkin.
Memorial contributions can be made in her name to: Little Shelter, 33 Warner Road, Huntington. NY 11743.