Neil Leslie Diamond (born January 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, musician and actor with 38 songs in the Top 10 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts, who has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time. Diamond was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family descended from Russian and Polish immigrants. His parents were Akeeba “Kieve” Diamond, a dry-goods merchant and his wife Rose (née Rapoport). Neil grew up in several homes in Brooklyn and also spent four years in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where his father was stationed in the army. In Brooklyn he attended Erasmus Hall High School and was a member of the Freshman Chorus and Choral Club, along with classmate Barbra Streisand. After his family moved, he then attended Abraham Lincoln High School and was a member of the fencing team.
For his 16th birthday, Diamond received his first guitar. When he was 16 and still in high school, he spent a number of weeks at Surprise Lake Camp, a camp for Jewish children in upstate New York, when folk singer Pete Seeger performed a small concert. Seeing the widely recognized singer perform, and watching other children singing songs for Seeger that they wrote themselves, had an immediate effect on Diamond, who then became aware of the possibility of writing his own songs. Diamond used his newly developing skill to write poetry. He spent the summer following his graduation as a waiter in the Catskills resort area. There he first met Jaye Posner, who would years later become his wife.
Diamond next attended New York University as a pre-med major on a fencing scholarship. He was a member of the 1960 NCAA men’s championship fencing team. Often bored in class, he found writing song lyrics more to his liking. He began cutting classes and taking the train up to Tin Pan Alley, where he tried to get some of his songs heard by local music publishers. In his senior year, when he was just 10 units short of graduation, Sunbeam Music Publishing offered him a 16-week job writing songs for $50 a week, and he dropped out of college to accept it. After his 16 weeks at Sunbeam Music were up, he was not rehired, and began writing and singing his own songs for demo purposes. Diamond’s first recording contract was billed as “Neil and Jack,” an Everly Brothers-type duo comprising Diamond and high school friend Jack Packer. They recorded two unsuccessful singles both released in 1962.
Later in 1962, Diamond signed with Columbia Records as a solo performer. In 1963, he married his high-school sweetheart, schoolteacher Jaye Posner. They had two daughters, Marjorie and Elyn. In July 1963 Columbia released the single “At Night” but it failed to chart, and Columbia dropped him from their label, so he went back to writing songs in and out of publishing houses for the next seven years. During those years, he was able to sell only about one song a week, barely enough to survive on, but. the privacy he had above the Birdland Club allowed him to focus on writing songs without distractions. Among them were “Cherry, Cherry” and “Solitary Man.” .His first success as a songwriter came in November 1965, with “Sunday and Me”, a Top 20 hit for Jay and the Americans. Greater success followed with “I’m a Believer”, “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You”, “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)”, and “Love to Love”, all performed by the Monkees.
In 1966, Diamond signed a deal with Bert Berns’s Bang Records, then a subsidiary of Atlantic. His first release on that label, “Solitary Man”, became his first true hit as a solo artist. Diamond later followed with “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman”. Diamond began to feel restricted by Bang Records, because he wanted to record more ambitious, introspective music, like his autobiographical “Brooklyn Roads” from 1968. On March 18, 1968, Diamond signed a deal with Uni Records; the label was named after Universal Pictures, whose owner, MCA Inc., later consolidated its labels into MCA Records (now called Universal Records). His debut album for Uni was Velvet Gloves and Spit, produced by Tom Catalano, which did not chart, and he recorded the follow-up Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show at American Sound Studios in Memphis with Tommy Cogbill and Chips Moman producing.
In late 1969, Diamond moved to Los Angeles. After that, his sound mellowed, with such songs as “Sweet Caroline” (1969), “Holly Holy” (1969), “Cracklin’ Rosie” (1970) and “Song Sung Blue” (1972), the last two reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100. The 1971 release “I Am…I Said” was a Top 5 hit in both the US and UK and was his most intensely personal effort to date, taking over four months to complete. In 1971, Diamond played 7 sold-out concerts at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. In August 1972, he played again at the Greek, this time doing 10 shows. The performance of August 24, 1972, was recorded and released as the live double album Hot August Night. Hot August Night demonstrates Diamond’s skills as a performer and showman, as he reinvigorated his back catalogue of hits with new energy.. In the fall of 1972, Diamond performed for 20 consecutive nights at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City.
In 1973, Diamond switched labels again, returning to Columbia Records for a million-dollar-advance-per-album contract .His first project, released as a solo album, was the soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which was a success, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart. Diamond also won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture. Thereafter, Diamond often included a Jonathan Livingston Seagull suite in his live performances. In 1974, Diamond released the album Serenade, from which “Longfellow Serenade” and “I’ve Been This Way Before” were issued as singles.. Diamond returned to live shows in 1976 with an Australian tour, “The ‘Thank You Australia’ Concert,” which was broadcast to 36 television outlets nationwide. He also again appeared at the Greek Theater in a 1976 concert, Love at the Greek, and did a show in Las Vegas that same year.
In 1976, Diamond released Beautiful Noise, produced by Robbie Robertson of The Band. On Thanksgiving 1976, Diamond made an appearance at The Band’s farewell concert, The Last Waltz, performing “Dry Your Eyes”, which he wrote jointly with Robertson, and which had appeared on Beautiful Noise. He also joined the rest of the performers onstage at the end in a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” . Diamond was paid $650,000from the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, to open its new $10 million Theater For the Performing Arts on July 2, 1976. He performed at Woburn Abbey on July 2, 1977, to an audience of 55,000 British fans. In 1977, Diamond released I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight, including “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” for which he composed the music and on the writing of whose lyrics he collaborated with Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman.
Diamond’s last 1970s album was September Morn, which included a new version of “I’m a Believer.” It and “Red Red Wine” are his best-known original songs made more famous by other artists. In February 1979, the uptempo “Forever in Blue Jeans,” co-written and jointly composed with his guitarist, Richard Bennett, was released as a single from You Don’t Bring Me Flowers. In 1979, Diamond collapsed on stage in San Francisco and was taken to the hospital, where he endured a 12-hour operation to remove what turned out to be a tumor on his spine.
Diamond starred in a 1980 remake of the Al Jolson classic The Jazz Singer alongside Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. The soundtrack spawned three Top 10 singles, “Love on the Rocks,” “Hello Again,” and “America,” the last of which, beginning with the words “Far, we’ve been traveling far without a home, but not without a star,” had emotional significance for Diamond. An abbreviated version played over the film’s opening titles. The song was also the one he was most proud of, partly because of when it was later used: national news shows played it when the hostages were shown returning home after the Iran hostage crisis ended; it was played on the air during the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty; and at the tribute to Martin Luther King and the Vietnam Vets Welcome Home concert, he was asked to perform it live. Another Top 10 selection, “Heartlight,” was inspired by the blockbuster 1982 movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
Diamond’s record sales slumped somewhat in the 1980s and 1990s, his last single to make the Billboard’s Pop Singles chart coming in 1986, but his concert tours continued to be big draws. Billboard magazine ranked Diamond as the most profitable solo performer of 1986. He released his 17th studio album in 1986, Headed for the Future, which reached number 20 on the Billboard 200. Three weeks later he starred in Hello Again, his first television special in nine years, performing comedy sketches and a duo medley with Carol Burnett. In January 1987, Diamond sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl.
During the 1990s, Diamond produced six studio albums. He covered many classic songs from the movies and from famous Brill Building-era songwriters. In 1992, he performed for President George H.W. Bush’s final Christmas in Washington NBC special. The 1990s saw a resurgence in Diamond’s popularity. “Sweet Caroline” became a popular sing-along at sporting events. It was used at Boston College football and basketball games. The New York Rangers also adapted it as their own, and played it whenever they were winning at the end of the 3rd period of their games. In 2000, Johnny Cash recorded the album American III: Solitary Man, and won a Grammy Award for his cover of “Solitary Man.” In 2007, Diamond was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. On March 19, 2008, it was announced on the television show American Idol that Diamond would be a guest mentor to the remaining Idol contestants, who would sing Diamond songs for the broadcasts of April 29 and 30, 2008. On the April 30 broadcast, Diamond premiered a new song, “Pretty Amazing Grace,” from his then recently released album Home Before Dark. On May 2, 2008, Sirius Satellite Radio started Neil Diamond Radio. Home Before Dark was released May 6, 2008, and topped the album charts in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
On June 29, 2008, Diamond played to an estimated 108,000 fans at the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England on the Concert of a Lifetime Tour. On August 25, 2008, Diamond performed at Ohio State University while suffering from laryngitis. Diamond was honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year on February 6, 2009, two nights before the 51st Annual Grammy Awards. Long loved in Boston, Diamond was invited to sing at the July 4, 2009 Independence Day celebration. On October 13, 2009, he released A Cherry Cherry Christmas, his third album of holiday music.
On November 2, 2010, Diamond released the album Dreams, a collection of 14 interpretations of his favorite songs by artists from the rock era. The album also included a new slow-tempo arrangement of his “I’m a Believer.” The years 2011 and 2012 were marked by several milestones in Diamond’s career. On March 14, 2011, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. In December, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Kennedy Center at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors. On August 10, 2012, Diamond received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In November 2012, he topped the bill at the centenary edition of the Royal Variety Performance in the U.K.. He also appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
On April 20, 2013, Diamond made an unannounced appearance at Fenway Park to sing “Sweet Caroline” during the 8th inning. On July 2, he released the single “Freedom Song (They’ll Never Take Us Down)”, with 100% of the purchase price benefiting One Fund Boston and the Wounded Warrior Project. Sporting a beard, Diamond performed live on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol as part of A Capitol Fourth, which was broadcast nationally by PBS on July 4, 2013. In January 2014, it was confirmed that Diamond had signed with the Capitol Music Group unit of Universal Music Group, which also owned Diamond’s Uni/MCA catalog. UMG also took over Diamond’s Columbia and Bang catalogues, which meant that all of his recorded output would be consolidated for the first time.
In September 2014, Diamond performed a surprise concert at his alma mater, Erasmus High School in Brooklyn. The show was announced via Twitter that afternoon. On the same day, he announced a 2015 “Melody Road” World Tour. The North American leg of the World Tour 2015 launched with a concert in Allentown, PA, at the PPL Center on February 27 and ended at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado on May 31, 2015. In October 2016, Diamond released Acoustic Christmas, a folk-inspired Christmas album of original songs as well as acoustic versions of holiday classics. In March 2017, the career-spanning anthology Neil Diamond 50 – 50th Anniversary Collection was released. He began the 50 Year Anniversary World Tour in Fresno, California, in April. In January 2018, Diamond announced that he would immediately retire from touring due to having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
The following work by Neil Diamond is contained in my collection:
America (Far, we’ve been traveling far without a home, but not without a star)