Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Garden Dedicated to Music Legend Ellie Greenwich ’62

The garden dedicated in memory of Ellie Greenwich is located outside the New Academic Building on the South Campus.

Songwriting legend Ellie Greenwich, who passed away in 2009, was a Hofstra alumna whose hit songs defined an era of American music. “Be My Baby,” “Chapel of Love,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “Do Wah Diddy,” and “River Deep, Mountain High” are just a few of the hit songs she either wrote or co-wrote. On October 30, 2011, Hofstra University dedicated a garden on campus to this musical “Leader of the Pack” (another of her songs!). The tranquil space is located just outside Hofstra’s New Academic Building, home to the Department of Music. 

The Songwriters Hall of Fame credits Greenwich as one of the most successful songwriters of modern pop music. Her songs, which have sold in the tens of millions, earned her 25 gold and platinum records and more than 33 BMI Awards, as well as numerous civic and Hofstra alumni citations. 
Greenwich wrote her first song when she was 13 and formed an all-girls group called The Jivettes. Her sister, Laura Weiner, who attended the garden dedication, spoke extensively about Greenwich’s love for creativity. 

After graduating from high school in 1957, Greenwich attended Queens College for one year as a music major. In an informal autobiographic essay, titled “All About Me,” she remembered a discouraging experience that led her to transfer to Hofstra. “I made (wrote and sang) a record for RCA and proudly brought it to my music class – only to have my professor play it for the class, while holding his arm on the handle, causing the needle to scratch and ultimately warp my record – telling me and the rest of the class (I was humiliated) that’s what he thought of this kind of music and that I’d better get really serious ... and so on and so on ... I did ... I QUIT!” 

Greenwich majored in English and minored in secondary education at Hofstra. Weiner said, “Ellie had some of her best experiences at Hofstra.” Greenwich wrote, “During my years at Hofstra, I was in Wreath & Foil sorority where I was honored as the most active and most beloved sister in the same year. I performed in some of the musicals done at the Hofstra Playhouse. I was Outstanding Senior Woman and, unbelievably, voted Spring Queen in 1961.” Also in 1961, she met co-writer Jeff Barry, whom she later married, and they experienced much success, working with music leaders such as Phil Spector and the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. 

“Ellie was a woman before her time,” said Weiner. “It wasn’t accepted for a woman to be connected in that end of the business; it was a man’s world.” However, gender inequality did not stop Greenwich during these years. She seized the charts as one of New York’s top demo/session singers and vocal arrangers, working with artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Blondie, Jim Croce, Dusty Springfield, Lesley Gore, Electric Light Orchestra, Bette Midler, The Manhattan Transfer, Bobby Darin and even Cyndi Lauper, on her hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” She is also credited with discovering Neil Diamond and was a frequent collaborator, singing background on his hit songs “Cherry, Cherry” and “She Got the Way to Move Me,” among others. Diamond told Rolling Stone after her death, “If I hadn’t met Ellie Greenwich I wouldn’t have had a career.” 

In 1985 The Leader of the Pack, a show about her life and music, opened on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award in the Best Musical category. In May 1991 Greenwich was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2010 she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

“Despite her fame, Greenwich was very humble and good spirited,” said Weiner. “Her passion was for music and creating, not fame and glory. She was a comedian and always knew how to make everyone laugh, but never understood the impact she had on people.” 

-Morgan Smith ’13, courtesy of The Chronicle 


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