Bruce Randall Hornsby (born November 23, 1954 in Williamsburg, Virginia) is an American singer, virtuoso pianist, accordion player, and songwriter. He is probably best known for his 1980s signature song "The Way It Is" and the top five hits "Mandolin Rain," and "The Valley Road", all recorded as Bruce Hornsby & The Range, and for his long association with the Grateful Dead. In some of his solo albums (from 1993) he moved in a less commercial, more musically-challenging direction. From 2000 he recorded albums a series of albums as Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers.
In 1984 Hornsby formed Bruce Hornsby & the Range, who were signed to RCA Records in 1985. Besides Hornsby, Range members were David Mansfield (guitar, mandolin, violin), George Marinelli (guitars and backing vocals), Joe Puerta (bass guitar and backing vocals), and John Molo (drums).
During the 1990s he toured with the Grateful Dead, and released four albums, including A Night on the Town (1990) after which he split from The Range. Harbor Lights (1993) was his first solo album and signaled Hornsby was moving in a new jazz-influenced direction, whilst retaining elements of rock and pop. Later releases include Hot House (1995) and Spirit Trail (1998).
His experimental album Big Swing Face (2002) attracted much criticism as it veered away from his piano-based style. Despite these criticisms, he returned with his next studio album, shrugging off RCA and signing to Sony Music Entertainment. Halcyon Days, released in 2004, saw a return to the piano as the key instrument; this album also became the premise for his world tour the same year.
Hornsby continues to tour with his live band "The Noisemakers", in addition to solo shows and his progressive bluegrass performances with Ricky Skaggs.
In 2007 he released Camp Meeting, his first total jazz album as The Bruce Hornsby Trio, which involved jazz giants, Jack DeJohnette and Christian McBride with whom he made live appearances with throughout 2007.
In March 2007 Hornsby teamed with bluegrass player Ricky Skaggs to produce a bluegrass album, Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby, and played several tour dates together. The seeds for the album had been sown in 2000 when the pair collaborated on "Darlin' Cory", a track on the Big Mon Bill Monroe bluegrass tribute album and then proposed recording an album together. Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby, featuring the duo backed by Skaggs's band Kentucky Thunder, combined bluegrass, traditional country, "a tinge of Hornsby's jazzy piano and a splash of humor" on a spectrum of songs from the traditional to new compositions such as the opening track "The Dreaded Spoon," "a humorous tale of a youthful ice cream heist. The pair also reinvented Hornsby's hit "Mandolin Rain" as a minor key acoustic ballad and "give his cautionary tale of backwoods violence", "A Night On the Town," a treatment highlighting the "Appalachian storytelling tradition that was always at the song's heart. The album ended with a surprise cover of Rick James's funk hit "Super Freak" in a bluegrass arrangement. Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby topped Billboard's bluegrass charts for several weeks. The album showed Hornsby carving out a place for piano within traditional bluegrass, disproving the notion that the piano is not compatible with "string-oriented" bluegrass.
Concurrently with the bluegrass project, Hornsby recorded a jazz album, Camp Meeting. with Christian McBride (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). Alongside original compositions by Hornsby, the trio delivered "newly reharmonized versions" of tunes by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, a previously unrecorded Ornette Coleman work ("Questions and Answers") and an early Keith Jarrett composition ("Death and the Flower.") The trio made a series of appearances in the summer of 2007, including the Playboy Jazz Festival, the Newport Jazz Festival and at the Hollywood Bowl.
On January 4, 2007, former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart reunited along with Hornsby, Mike Gordon (of Phish and the Rhythm Devils) and Warren Haynes to play two sets. including Dead classics, at a post-inauguration fundraising party for Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House in the United States Congress.
Hornsby wrote songs for a Broadway Musical, titled "SCKBSTD"; one song from this project, a playful biographical tune about real-estate tycoon Donald Trump titled "The Don of Dons," made several appearances in setlists during his early-2007 solo piano performances. He also composed the score for Spike Lee's ESPN documentary, Kobe Doin' Work, about NBA star Kobe Bryant and his MVP season.
Outside of music composition and performance, Hornsby has taken an ownership interest in Williamsburg area radio station "The Tide," WTYD 92.3 FM, and he has endowed the Bruce Hornsby Creative American Music Program at University of Miami's Frost School of Music, encouraging the study of songwriting broadly across traditional genres. Hornsby played himself in a cameo role in the Robin Williams movie World's Greatest Dad, in which Williams' character is a Bruce Hornsby fan.
He has also been honored by piano makers Steinway & Sons with their Limited Edition Signature Piano Series. Hornsby selected ten Model B Steinway Grands to be featured in this collection, each one personalized with his signature. Hornsby owns three 9-foot Model D Steinway Grands himself.