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Songwriter Ellie Greenwich Dies

Author: Robert Benson

Robert writes about rock/pop music, vinyl record collecting and operates ""
Collecting vinyl records blog

Songwriter Ellie Greenwich Dies

If you listened to music in the 1960's you heard some of the songs that Ellie Greenwich wrote or co-wrote during her illustrious songwriting career and it reads among early rock's elite. Songs such as "Chapel of Love," "Be My Baby," "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Leader of the Pack," just to name a few, are instantly recognizable and certainly stand the test of time. Sadly, on August 26, 2009, Greenwich died of a heart attack at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, New York City, where she had been admitted a few days earlier for treatment of pneumonia. She was 68 years old.

Greenwich was a native of Brooklyn and while she garnered her greatest success as a songwriter, Greenwich actually started out as a performer. She performed in talent shows as a child, and by the time she was a teen, she had her own group, called The Jivettes. Seeking an outlet for her singing, she began making demonstration tapes of other writers  songs and in the early 1960s she was referred to as the "Demo Queen of New York."

Ellie Greenwich

While attending college, she met Jeff Barry, and shortly after graduation, began working for songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, where she got her big break. She had her first chart success with the Jay and the Americans song "This Is It," which she wrote with Doc Pomus and Tony Powers. In October 1962, Barry and Greenwich married, and shortly afterwards decided to write songs exclusively with each other.

Within a couple of years, the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich would be among the most successful and prolific of Brill Building composers. Greenwich and Barry also recorded singles and an album under the name The Raindrops, with Greenwich providing all the female vocals through overdubbing, and Barry singing backgrounds in a bass voice; releasing songs such as "What a Guy" and "The Kind of Boy You Can't Forget." The couple also wrote and recorded "Hanky Panky," which became a hit for Tommy James & the Shondells and the following year, "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," which was taken to the #1 by Manfred Mann.

She had a rich musical partnership with the legendary Phil Spector, whose "wall of sound" technique helped to change pop music. With Spector, she wrote some of pop's most memorable songs, including "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "River Deep, Mountain High." Some of Greenwich's finest compositions were supplied to Spector, including the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and "Baby, I Love You," "Then He Kissed Me" and Darlene Love's "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Going To Marry." She also worked closely with the Red Bird label, owned by Leiber, Stoller, and George Goldner, providing such hits as the Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love" and "People Say" and the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack," (years later, Broadway would stage a Tony-nominated musical with the same name based on her life).

Even after the couple's divorce, Barry and Greenwich continued to work together for much of 1966, partly due to Greenwich's discovery of a talented singer-songwriter named Neil Diamond. She and her ex-husband turned to publishing and production work in the mid-1960s and during these years Greenwich reigned as one of New York's top demo/session singers and vocal arrangers, working with artists ranging from Dusty Springfield and Lesley Gore to Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra. One of her most exciting sessions was re-arranging the background vocals on Aretha Franklin's "Chain Of Fools" and working with Cissy Houston and the "Sweet Inspirations." She did studio work for her ex-husband as well, singing backgrounds for Andy Kim and The Archies. It was during one of her many demo sessions, Greenwich met and "discovered" Neil Diamond and went on to co-produce all his early hits such as "Cherry, Cherry" and "Kentucky Woman," doing background vocals as well.

Changes in popular music led to a drop-off in productivity by the late 1960s, but she revived her career by focusing on radio and television commercials through her firm, Pineywood Productions. In the early 1970s, Greenwich wrote advertising material for Ford, Cheerios, Prince Albert Tobacco, and other companies. She also contributed vocals to jingles for the likes of Beechnut, Clairol, Coca-Cola, Noxzema, and Helena Rubenstein.

In recent years Greenwich has worked with Desmond Child, Nona Hendryx, Cyndi Lauper and Paul Shaffer, among others. In 1984, "Leader Of The Pack," a show about her life and music, opened at New York's The Bottom Line. The success of this show led to a 1985 Broadway run at the Ambassador Theater, where it swept up an extraordinary trio of honors: A Tony Award nomination for Best Musical, a Grammy nomination for Best Cast Album and The New York Music Award for Best Broadway Musical.

Greenwich's songs have earned her over 25 gold and platinum records and sales in the tens of millions. Ellie Greenwich was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall Of Fame in 1991 and her music will be heard and appreciated for generations to come.

"Ellie Greenwich was one of the most important people in my career. She discovered me as a down-and-out songwriter and with her then-husband Jeff Barry co-produced all my early hits on Bang records," said Diamond in a statement. "She has remained a great friend and mentor over the years and will be missed greatly."

Article by: Robert Benson

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