Bruce Hornsby was born in Williamsburg, Virginia to Nee Lois Saunier and Robert Hornsby, a real estate developer. He witnessed much racism growing up in Virginia: "It's interesting to remember how, when I was brought up, the vibe I got of Martin Luther King in my town was that he was a real evil man — just the vibe in the air, that he was terrible. And if you grow up in that environment you can't help but be affected by it a little bit. Luckily, I came from a family that guarded us against that conservatism, but sure, I grew up in the thick of all that bad feeling." -Bruce Hornsby, from an interview with Andy Gill for NME.
Hornsby played basketball in high school, and still loves to watch and play the sport.
He began playing music very late, at age 17 as a junior in high school. There happened to be a Steinway in the house, and Bruce was inspired by hearing Elton John's album Tumbleweed Connection.
He studied music at the University of Richmond, Berklee College of Music, and the University of Miami. He's highly-trained and stylistically curious; in his work he's dealt with New Orleans, ragtime, jazz, classical, pop, bluegrass, rock, and jam band idioms.
His first single, "The Way it Is," topped Billboard at #1 in 1986. His album of the same name is certified multi-platinum. Seven of the nine songs on the album were co-written with Bruce's younger brother, John Hornsby.
Bruce Hornsby appeared live with The Grateful Dead from 1988 to 1992, developing a strong musical and personal rapport with their lead guitarist Jerry Garcia.
Hornsby has appeared on albums by Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Stevie Nicks. He's also collaborated with Wayne Shorter and Bela Fleck, and played with jazz legends Pat Metheny, Christian McBride, and Jack DeJohnette. Hornsby's songs have been performed or recorded by American icons such as Willie Nelson, Don Henley, Bob Dylan, Chaka Khan, Huey Lewis, Sara Evans, and Leon Russell.
He's recorded over 50 albums and won three Grammy Awards: Best New Artist in 1987 with his backing band The Range; Best Bluegrass Recording for rearranging his hit "The Valley Road" with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1990; and Best Pop Instrumental in for co-writing "Barcelona Mona" with Branford Marsalis for the Barcelona Olympics in 1993.
In 2007, Hornsby appeared at a fundraising concert for Nancy Pelosi, America's first female Congressional Speaker of the House.
Hornsby resists playing his famous hits the way they've appeared on his albums; often opening his songs up to improvisation. "I feel like what I owe my audience is what I'm most passionate about," he says. "Having to play the songs straight is a real prison for me." But this approach isn't so much about long solos or vamps as it is about composing new sections for a song on the spot by listening closely and interacting with his top-notch backing band.
Hornsby signed with Columbia records in 2003. In his own words: "When you sign with Columbia, one of the incredible rewards of that is that you get to raid their catalog. They have one of the greatest catalogs that exists. I went crazy. I ordered 176 free CDs."