Neil Sedaka, who has been with the love of his life for almost 61 years, doesn’t have much experience to draw from when he says that “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.
“The charming “down doobie do down down” singer, who recently celebrated his 84th birthday, is overflowing with love for his grandchildren and gushes that he was “born married to his wife.”
Who could possibly not adore Neil Sedaka? He has given us so much; for many years, the talented singer has delighted us with his voice and presence.
Neil Sedaka, a natural talent who has written and sung some of the most memorable songs in music history, once admitted that he was shy to sing in front of people when he was younger.
“I knew I had a remarkable voice, but I was embarrassed because it was so high,” Sedaka shared. “But when I sang at my bar mitzvah the rabbi was in tears.”
The classically trained pianist, who was only 13 years old and attended the Julliard Preparatory for Children on a Saturday scholarship program, teamed up with Howard Greenfield, then 16 years old, and the two of them wrote songs for Sedaka’s school band, the Linc-Tones, which would later change its name to the Tokens.
The pair went on to pen top-charting singles like Sedaka’s “Breaking up is Hard to do,” Captain & Tenille’s “Love will keep us Together,” and Connie Francis’ “Stupid Cupid” while working out of New York’s famed Brill Building.
“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,” Sedaka said, adding the pair were earning $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.”
His famous song “Oh! Carol” (1959), which was inspired by his high school lover Carole King, was the first in the building to reach the Top 10. He was also the first to record his own tunes.Up to the middle of the 1970s, Greenfield and Sedaka worked together.
Greenfield, an out gay man, passed away in 1986 from AIDS-related problems. Sedaka, meantime, quit The Tokens at the age of 19 just as the group was reaching its zenith of prominence in 1961 with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Tonight I Fell in Love.”
His first three solo albums didn’t do well on the charts, but one song got him an appearance on American Bandstand with Dick Clark, and soon after that, he got a recording deal.
The song “The Diary,” which Sedaka wrote because he genuinely wanted “to look into that little book,” was his first big hit and reached at number 14 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1958. It was inspired by Connie Francis’ diary. Sedaka’s popularity was at its peak when he recorded “Calendar Girl,” his sixth hit in just two years, in 1960.
During a performance at the now-defunct Esther Manor resort in the Catskill Mountains of New York, he met Leba Strassberg, whom he later married. Leba’s mother Esther, a successful businesswoman who didn’t like seeing her daughter courted by a mediocre musician, was a co-owner of the resort.
The couple persisted in their relationship despite Esther’s displeasure while also having to cope with Eleanor Sedaka, another interfering mother. Eleanor had previously admitted that she went on roller coasters while expecting him in an effort to induce miscarriage. She was also encouraging her kid to become a classical pianist rather than a pop star.
“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, adding that he made the mistake of giving the money to his mom, who along with her lover later controlled most of his rights as an artist, including his royalties and finances.
“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.”
Sedaka fired his mother’s boyfriend and revealed Eleanor nearly overdosed on sleeping medication, “because she couldn’t stand to see her son and her lover at odds. She said she didn’t realise it was my money they were spending. I didn’t speak to her for a year.”
At that point, his faithful wife took over as his new manager. Sedaka’s career was about to take off when The Beatles arrived and ruined everything. He continued to write songs for other people, but his declining chart success in the U.S. prompted him to relocate Leba and their kids, Dara and Marc, to London, the capital of hit creators.
Referring to his slide in fame, Sedaka said: “Well, I used to walk down the street and people asked, ‘Didn’t you used to be Neil Sedaka?’ I said, ‘well, I’m still Neil Sedaka, you haven’t heard the last of me.’ I had to change my style. It was the early ‘70s, and I met a guy by the name of Elton John. Did you ever hear of him?”
Sedaka, who met the singer of “I’m Still Standing” at a London party, said he was asked to sign with John’s former label, the Rocket Record Company.
According to the album’s title, Sedaka’s prominence increased after the release of “Sedaka’s Back” in 1974. This was the first of three albums the singer collaborated on with Elton John, and the singer was once more having success on the American charts.
He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame after being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983. He was a guest judge on American Idol in 2003, when season two runner-up Clay Aiken later recorded and released “Solitaire,” a song by Neil Sedaka from 1972, which went on to become the best-selling single of the following year.
Sedaka began posting tiny concerts on social media during COVID to keep fans entertained, and last September, in honor of his 60th wedding anniversary with Leba, he released a unique concert that included three songs he wrote specifically for her. The touching tribute says: “I’d like to dedicate today’s mini-concert to my beautiful wife, Leba. In September, we will be celebrating our 60th Anniversary. Here are three songs especially written for Leba!”
Sedaka announced his affiliation with Cameo in a video that he shared on Facebook at the beginning of May. He said he was excited to accept requests for birthdays, anniversaries, or any other special occasion where he could give a personalized message. With a few bars of “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” he closed the brief piece, earning acclaim from his audience. One person commented, “I’ve loved your music since I was a teenager, and I’m 75 now. Do not stop, please.
Another admirer sent Neil a heartfelt note that many people can identify with: “Dear Neil, your songs lighten the day. I frequently catch myself singing the melodies you composed.they seem to have merged with me. I appreciate the happiness you bring to the world.
Sedaka continues to make people smile with his music, but his main priorities are his wife and family.
“I was born married… if you’re lucky to have that companion that does it for you, that’s a great gift,” said Sedaka, a devoted grandfather of three, including one set of twins.
Regarding their children, Marc (born 1967) is a writer and editor for TV and cinema, and Dara (born 1963) is an actress and singer renowned for films like Where the Boys Are.
Referencing his successful career, Sedaka said, “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.”
The fact that Neil Sedaka and Leba have been together for such a long time and haven’t let celebrity ruin their happy marriage is very admirable.
His music will undoubtedly have an impact on future generations; he is truly a gifted artist. I’m grateful that you gave us access to your music and life.Which song—performed or composed—by him do you prefer?