(1939 - )
Singer/composer/producer Neil Sedaka is a man on a
mission. He wants to gladden the hearts of his multitude of fans for
many more years to come. Its been an incredible journey
of 48 years of singing and over 50 years of songwriting, says
the father of two. Ive written over 1,000 songs, and Im
proud to say that some of the greatest singers have recorded my workfrom
Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley. Im one of the major songwriters
in Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), which means that every time a song of
mine is played on the radio, its logged and recorded and thank
God it will keep my wife Leba in the style to which she has become accustomed.
This legendary singer is a well-known family man and enjoys
talking about his roots. My paternal grandparents were born in
Istanbul, Turkey, and came to New York around 1910. My father, born
on the Lower East Side, drove a taxi for over 30 years in order to put
me through The Juilliard School of Music.
Although my upbringing was not Orthodox in nature, nonetheless the feeling within the home was that of a Jewish
family with Jewish traditions. As a cohesive family unit, my wife and
children attend the High Holidays in New York and its an event
we look forward to each and every year. I have a great love for Jewish
culture, as does my 88-year-old mother Eleanor, who lives and enjoys
life in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A few months ago they featured my
biography on A&E and Mom was interviewed, which was a great thrill
for all of us.
I am probably one of the more well-known American
singers in Israel. In the 60s,
I made several appearances in kibbutzim,
as well as in Tel
Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa and I made a few records in Hebrew. To this day, if I go into a cab
and the driver is Israeli, they stare at me for a minute or so and say,
You look familiar, and when I tell them that my name is
Neil Sedaka, they tell me, Do you know you are the top singer
in Israel? And that is always something wonderful to hear! The
last time I visited Israel with my wife, my mother and aunt eight years
ago, we made many stops in all the major cities.
I am extremely proud to be Jewish. Wherever I go, people tell
me that my name, Sedaka, means charity in Hebrew and I affirm
this to them and tell them of the wonderful feelings I have for my surname.
As much as I love Israel and its people, I dont usually get involved
with the politics. However, I feel strongly that this is a time when
one should be supportive of Israel. Im strictly an artist, a creator,
a musician. Financially I am a supporter of many Jewish charities and
organizations, and Ive planted many trees in honor of loved ones.
Recently, I produced an album of Yiddish songs which I loved doing and which I find so exciting. And because
I always think in musical terms, I came up with these wonderful old
Jewish songs that are disappearing from our wonderful culture. These
songs are called Brighton Beach MemoriesSedaka sings Yiddish.
There are 13 songs such as Exodus, My Yiddishe Mama,
Mein Shtetele Belz, Sunrise, Sunset, Ich
Hob Dich Tzufil Lieb, Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, as well
as many others that invoke wonderful memories for me.
When I was growing up in Brighton Beach, my mother used to play
these Yiddish songs performed by the Barry Sisters. I did a record with
a klezmer group which was a labor of love. I made a couple of hundred
just to send to my friends and family and, all of a sudden, it has taken
on a life of its own. Im getting so many calls from record labels,
from concert halls and theaters asking about this Yiddish album. There
is a very big movement of people who love this music. As far as my albums
go, we are selling many of them at my concerts and at my appearances.
Once a year I visit Brighton Beach where I go swimming at Bay
3. I make it a point to visit my street sign (Neil Sedaka Way) on the
boardwalk on Coney Island Avenue. Then I treat myself to a Nathans
frankfurter and go on the Cyclone to see if I can still take those drops.
I always remember how happy the entire family was when they attended
my bar mitzvah at Temple Beth El in the Manhattan Beach area of Brooklyn.
Recently, I was honored by the Friars Club in
New York and Borough President Marty Markowitz came up and gave me a
special Brooklyn award. I remember when I was crowned King of Brooklyn
in 1994; my mother and my sister came in to see me accept the crown.
It was a wonderful event that the borough president sponsored each year
with all Brooklyn personalities coming home to visit their place of
Much of Sedakas life has centered around Brighton
Beach and its environs. In the late 1950s, Sedaka could have been any
teenager cruising around Kings Highway, driving his Chevy Impala convertible
with the radio blaring. But, unlike most youngsters, Sedaka wasnt
just listening to music, he was writing it, and often it was one of
his songs which was being played. I would be listening to the
radio and then a song like Oh, Carol would come on. I wrote
that for Carole Klein, who was a girlfriend of mine at the time and,
as most people now know, she went on to become Carole King, a wonderful,
Sedaka, who began composing in 1952 at age 13, recalls
his childhood as a mixture of love, affection and some unhappiness in
school. But pop music became my means of acceptance and my way
in with the in crowd.
Almost all his early songs were collaborations between
himself and his best friend, Howie Greenfield, who lived in the same
apartment house at 3260 Coney Island Avenue. (Sadly Sedaka confides
that Greenfield has since passed away.) Our first song, My
Lifes Devotion, was pretty good considering it was done
by two kids aged 13 and 16. Sedaka and Greenfield turned out many
hits, among them Where the Boys Are, Breaking Up Is
Hard to Do and Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen.
Back in the 60s, Sedaka, who was earning more
than $250,000 a year, quickly adjusted to his newfound fame and wealth.
I had to pinch myself to believe it, he reminisces. And
although he now had the wherewithal to live anywhere, still he chose
to stay in Brooklyn.
Born in Brooklyns Madison Hospital on March
13, 1939, he tells about his early life in Brooklyn.
My family lived on Coney Island Avenue, right
on the ocean. To this day, Im partial to the ocean and whenever
I visit relatives living in Brooklyn, I make it a point to take a swim
in the cold ocean water. When my kids, Marc and Dara, were growing up,
Leba and I wanted a home in the Brighton Beach area. We were lucky,
we found a lovely place at The Seacoast Towers right on the waterfront.
I think it is still called that. We took two apartments, broke down
the walls and ended up with a wonderful 10-room residence. At that time
the rent was $500 per month. Today, I dont think you could touch
it for less than thousands.
And although Sedaka enjoys the accoutrements of famehomes
in Manhattan and California, the trips abroad and the adulation of a
loyal and vast publiche still prefers the joys of family life
to attending cocktail parties and making small talk with people
who hang around winners. A quiet dinner with family and
friends is my favorite way to spend an evening.
By choice, Sedaka would give only five or six appearances
a year while the children were still young. (Today, Dara is 40 and Marc
is 37). This way I got to spend precious time with the family,
something I enjoyed very much. I am a very lucky man: I have my own
music company and a wonderful, loving family.
Always the proud father, Sedaka speaks of Dara, who
sings jingles for radio commercials and Marc, who is writing
for movies and television and is currently working on two projects:
one a Broadway show based on Neil Sedaka songs with a story, and the
other for PBS which is still in development. He is working with Ken
Levine trying to develop a show called Papa Neils Penthouse, which
is a Mr. Rogers type of show.
Marc is married to a wonderful girl from Sheepshead
Bay, Samantha Parker, and they have given us two wonderful granddaughters,
twins, Amanda and Charlotte. The twins are fraternal and they live in
Studio City, California.
Sedaka is currently enjoying a renaissance
a rebirth at an age when most performers are looking to retire. Never
one to rest on his laurels, Sedaka keeps a hectic schedule. He still
tours constantly, performing concerts all over the world.
At this time, Sedaka who loves performing, has no
intention of leaving the public arena. When asked what he would like
to be remembered for when and if he does retire, he quickly answers:
I would like to be remembered foremost as a Jew, and also as a
composer and singer, a person who contributed to the American scene
as a worthwhile entertainer. I love this country and feel proud to have
been part of its musical growth!
On Thursday, June 3, 2004, Sedaka will be performing
selections from Brighton Beach Memories at a gala fund-raiser for the
Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre at Carnegie Hall. He will be joined by the
worlds most renowned klezmer band, The Klezmatics, and the New
Yiddish Chorale, conducted by Zalmen Mlotek. He looks forward to doing
the show, as he feels a great need to preserve Jewish culture through
its music and theater.