When one and only Neil Sedaka, who was just 13 years old at the time, teamed up with then 16-year-old Howard Greenfield, no one knew that the pair would write some of the most iconic songs to date such as Connie Francis’ Stupid Cupid and Captain & Tenille’s Love will keep us Together.
Recalling the time of their then humble beginnings, Sedaka once said, “We had a cubicle with a piano and a bench but no window. You only got a room with a window after you’d had a hit song,” adding that the two were making $50 a week. “Every day from 9am to 5pm we’d write and then we’d play what we’d written to people from record labels. It was hard but it was wonderful training.”
Their room with a window came with the hit Oh! Carol which reached the top 10 on the charts.
Sedaka and Greenfield worked together up to the middle of the 1970s. Unfortunately, Greenfield, who was an out gay man, died due to AIDS. Around that time, Sedaka left the Tokens, the group which emerged from his school’s band the Linc-Tones. He did this in 1961, or the year many consider to be the zenith of their prominence with the hits The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Tonight I Fell in Love.
He continued his career as a solo artist who had hits such as The Diary and Calendar Girl.
Sedaka fell in love with the woman of his dreams, Leba Strassberg, the moment he spotted her at the now-defunct Esther Manor resort in the Catskill Mountains of New York during a performance. Her mother was the co-owner of the place and she hated the idea of her daughter dating a mediocre musician. But Leba’s mother’s oppression towards the relationship was nowhere near that of Sedaka’s mother, Eleanor, who made his life a living hell.
Even while she was pregnant with Sedaka, his mother would ride on roller coasters in order to induce miscarriage. Also, she didn’t want him to be a pop star but a classical pianist.
“She soon changed her mind when I got a royalty cheque for $62,000 for “Stupid Cupid.” My father was a taxi driver and never made more than $10,000 a year,” Sedaka said. Unfortunately, he made a mistake when he let his mother control his finances together with her lover.
“My father knew about him and accepted him so after the initial shock so did I. I even understood it, in a way. My parents lived in two rooms with nine other relatives and my dad was very thrifty whereas the other man bought her jewels and furs and took her to nice places.” He continued, “Only they were living the high life on my money. They went through hundreds of thousands of dollars. I couldn’t pay my taxes, nothing. My wife and I had to start from scratch.”
Once he fired his mother’s lover and Eleanor almost overdosed on medications “because she couldn’t stand to see her son and her lover at odds,” it was Sedaka’s wife who became his manager.
However, just as it seemed he would make it even bigger, The Beatles came to the scene and overshadowed everyone else, including Sedaka.
He continued writing songs for others and moved to London with his wife and their two children. Sedaka grew to prominence once again with the album Sedaka’s Back, the first out of the three albums he collaborated on with Elton John.
Sedaka was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983 and he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
His music made many happy over the years and as much as he loves spreading joy among his fans, it is his family that is on the top of the list of his priorities.
Speaking of the love of his life, the singer-songwriter says, “I was born married… if you’re lucky to have that companion that does it for you, that’s a great gift.”
Today, he and his wife are grandparents to three and they love their roles of a grandpa and a grandma.
Looking back at his career, he says, “I could have been bigger but I wasn’t controversial enough. I didn’t do drugs or wreck rooms. There were no dramas in my private life…I had talent and I was hungry for fame, and you can’t say I didn’t get it.”
According to us, Neil Sedaka truly gave the world of music a lot he has to be proud of.
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