Happy birthday to Neil Diamond, who turns 78 today. He has sold over 130 million records, had 37 top forty singles, and 16 top ten singles. As impressive as all of that is, there is much more to his story.
Neil Diamond was born January 24, 1941 in Brooklyn to Jewish refugees whose families had escaped persecution in Russia and Poland. When Neil was 6, his family moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming for four years while his father served in the United States Army. They then moved back to Brooklyn and lived in a small apartment above a butcher shop, and ran a dry goods store. The vibrant life in the city filled with immigrants and refugees working hard to achieve the American dream never left the mind of Neil Diamond, creating a story which he would later re-tell in the smash hit “America.”
Diamond attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn where he would sing in the same choir as Barbara Streisand. Both claimed only to be acquaintances, not great friends. More than two decades later, they would reunite to have a number one hit with the duet, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore.” Diamond took up fencing while in high school, and later attend New York University on a fencing scholarship and helped the team win a N.C.A.A. championship in 1960. He studied pre-med at N.Y.U., but dropped out after receiving an offer of $50 per week to write songs.
Neil Diamond’s passion for music would be ignited at a summer camp in upstate New York he attended after his junior year of high school. It was there that he saw legendary Folk singer Pete Seeger perform nightly. Seeger worked as a camp counselor and music teacher, needing the money because he had been blacklisted by many because of his political involvement. When Seeger died in 2014, Diamond said, “Pete Seeger was a messenger of universal love and peace. He was my first inspiration to write songs and share music in my own way.”
Photo Credit: BBC
Even though he often told people he hated song writing, he was incredibly good at it. In addition to all the hits that Diamond had for himself, he wrote a couple other pretty big ones that most people don’t realize were his. He wrote both “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees, and “Red, Red Wine” by UB40. Perhaps his most famous hit, “Sweet Caroline” was written about his wife, but he later told people that he needed a three syllable name so he went with “Caroline” after seeing Caroline Kennedy on the cover of Life Magazine. So, he didn’t really write it about about the first daughter, which is good because she was eleven at the time it was released. (think: reaching out….touching me….touching you)
Neil Diamond was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year, so he has announced he will no longer be touring. However, there is little question that his songs will outlive all of us.
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