There are very few people in show business who have reached the status that Neil Sedaka has attained. Who else has achieved comparable success as a singer, songwriter, and pianist? He shocked skeptics who thought his career was over in 1966 only to become even bigger in the next decade. And if that isn't enough, he took a song of his that sold millions in the 60s and re-recorded it as a ballad, giving it a brand new life as well as making it a chart topping record. There is not one other person who can claim this amazing achievement.
It all began when the eighty-four pound Eleanor Appel (born October 31, 1916) met Mac Sedaka (1913-1981), a New York City taxi driver, at a social club in Brooklyn when she was all of seventeen-years-old. While Eleanor danced with someone else, Mac cut in. He nicknamed her Skinny as they danced the night away. He even drove her home in his Checker Cab. Despite their regular dating, Eleanor was not in love with Mac. Her brother Sydney made it clear that Mac was in love with her and had a steady job. Mac was a Sephardic Jew and Eleanor, an Ashkenazic. She called his people the black Jews. They married on July 4th 1936. It was not the marriage of the century...or the year. Mac's new brother-in-law and wife even accompanied the newlyweds on their honeymoon. They settled down on Voorhies Avenue in Brooklyn. When Neil's sister, Ronnie, was born on September 4, 1937, the Voorhies Avenue apartment was just too small. Mac's parents, Marie and Nisim, insisted they join them in a two-room apartment with ten other family members on the second floor of 3260 Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. Eleanor was warned against getting pregnant again for health reasons, but despite the warnings, Neil entered the world on March 13, 1939. The immediate Sedaka family all lived together in one room. The closeness resulted in lots of love for children, but there was still no deep love for Mac. Eleanor controlled the family and made all the decisions.
There was always music in the house ... perhaps not always pleasing as his grandmother carted out the Turkish records she had saved from the old country. It was Aunt Molly's American discs that really made an impression on little Neil. As early as three, Neil thrived on listening to the Moylan Sisters. It was the music of World War II with artists like the Andrews Sisters and the Big Bands like Glenn Miller that changed Neil's whole life. Songs like Chattanooga Choo Choo became his favorites. He even made up his own little shows with Ronnie where they imitated the Andrews Sisters. Ronnie was his true companion. He didn't have other boys his own age for friends like most kids. All he had was his mother (who never let him do anything for himself), his aunts and his sister. By the first grade he was known as a sissy. His father worked long hours driving his cab. He tried to make time for Neil and did, but it was tough. By 1946 Neil began listening to a disc jockey named Martin Bloch where he first heard Les Paul and Mary Ford, who were to have a major impact on Neil's overdubbing style on his own records. He also heard and imitated Johnnie Ray. When he got into the second grade school choir, led by a Mrs. Glantz, his talent was evident--hence Mrs. Glantz's suggestion that he take up piano. Eleanor Sedaka took a part-time job in order to purchase a second hand piano on which her eight-year-old could take lessons with a local teacher named Murray Newman.
Ronnie was required to take lessons as well. It was Neil, however, who leaped into Book Six of the John Thompson series within six months. These lessons led to an audition at the prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan, where Neil was given a piano scholarship and began studying under the auspices of Edgar Roberts in 1947. He practiced four hours a day and performed his first concert on a Saturday with an original composition from Miss Shaeffer's Literature and Materials of Music class. As his thirteenth birthday approached, Eleanor frantically rushed Neil to Hebrew school so he could be Bar Mitzvahed in Jewish tradition. While in Hebrew school, the cantor discovered Neil's incredible voice and asked him to perform at every Saturday class. His performance at his Bar Mitzvah was a huge success with not a dry eye in the temple! As he entered the seventh and eighth grades in public school, he played classical piano for the other kids, but he was not who they wanted at parties. It was then that he decided to learn the pop hits of the day in order to become more popular. While in his first year at Lincoln High School, Neil was asked by a teacher named Bill Medine if he would like to be the music camp counselor at a summer camp he owned called Echo Park in Lake George, New York. Neil would be paid and get the whole summer at camp for free. He accepted and not only helped put on standard musicals, but also wrote original songs that are still being performed there today!
On October 11, 1952, Neil was approached by Howard Greenfield (born March 15, 1936), who lived in the same building. Howie's mother, Ella, had heard Neil practicing in the lobby at the Kenmore Lake Hotel and was so impressed that she insisted her son contact him about collaborating on a song.