Neil Sedaka: From Juilliard to pop stardom via the Brill Building

21 July 2022, 12:43 | Updated: 1 November 2022, 11:15

Neil Sedaka
Neil Sedaka. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Neil Sedaka is one of the most popular and successful entertainers of all time.

The American star is a talented singer, pianist, composer, songwriter and record producer.

His music career began in 1957, and he has since sold millions of records as a performer, while also writing over 500 songs for himself and others.

He started as a founding member of the Tokens, and Neil later scored several big hit singles in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including 'Oh! Carol', 'Calendar Girl', 'Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen' and 'Breaking Up Is Hard to Do'.

Neil's career saw a comeback in the mid-1970s, thanks to the number one hits 'Laughter in the Rain' and 'Bad Blood', as well as a re-recorded version of 'Breaking Up is Hard to Do'.

He also wrote songs for other artists such as 'Stupid Cupid' (Connie Francis), '(Is This the Way to) Amarillo' (Tony Christie) and 'Love Will Keep Us Together' (Captain & Tennille).

  1. How old is Neil Sedaka and where is he from?

    Neil Sedaka in 1960
    Neil Sedaka in 1960. Picture: Getty

    Neil Sedaka was born on March 13, 1939. He celebrated his 83rd birthday in 2022.

    He was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Mordechai 'Mac' Sedaka, was a taxi driver of Sephardi Jewish descent from Lebanon and Turkey.

    His paternal grandparents came to the United States from Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1910.

    Neil's mother, Eleanor (née Appel), was an Ashkenazi Jew of Polish and Russian descent.

  2. How did Neil Sedaka get his start in music?

    Neil first saw a love for music in his second-grade choral class. His teacher sent a note home suggesting that he take up piano lessons, and so his mother took a part-time job in an Abraham & Straus department store for six months to pay for a second-hand piano.

    In 1947, he auditioned for a piano scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music's Preparatory Division for Children, which he attended on Saturdays.

    While his mother hoped he would become a classical performer, Neil discovered pop music. Aged 13, a neighbour heard him playing and introduced him to her 16-year-old son, Howard Greenfield, who was an aspiring poet and writer. The pair later became two of the famous Brill Building's composers.

    After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, Neil and a couple of classmates formed a band called the Linc-Tones.

    The band had small local hits, before he quit in 1957. The Linc-Tones were later renamed as the Tokens.

  3. Who is Neil Sedaka's wife and how many children does he have?

    Neil Sedaka and wife Leba in 1972
    Neil Sedaka and wife Leba in 1972. Picture: Getty
    Neil and Leba in 2014
    Neil and Leba in 2014. Picture: Getty

    Neil married partner Leba Strassberg in 1962.

    The couple have a daughter named Dara and a son, Marc.

    Dara is also a recording artist and singer for TV and radio commercials, and sang the female part on the Sedaka duet, 'Should've Never Let You Go'.

    Marc is a screenwriter who has three children with his wife, Samantha.

    Neil and his family in 1979
    Neil and his family in 1979. Picture: Getty