Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Pop Music Legend Ellie Greenwich Passes Away At 69

Ellie Greenwich was one of the most successful songwriters of the modern pop music era. She was one of the major influences on the 60's rock and roll, a music that continues alive and well today. Her songs have sold in the tens of millions, and earned her 25 gold and platinum records.

Born in Brooklyn, her young life was filled with singing and dancing recitals and winning first prize in the local newspaper's poetry contest. At 11, she moved to Levittown, Long Island, and her musical career became serious when she took up the accordion and by 13, was writing songs. Along with two high school friends, she formed her first "girls group," The Jivettes, and the trio performed original songs at hospitals, schools and charity benefits throughout Long Island.

About this time, Greenwich's mother arranged a meeting for Ellie with Cadence Records president Archie Bleyer (of Everly Brothers and Chordettes fame). His advIce To "keep writing but finish school...the music business will always be there" stuck in the young writer's head and she did just that. She attended Hofstra University, was it's Spring Queen and was graduated with top honors, a BA degree in English, and a listing in "Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities."

During her later years in college, she met Jeff Barry at a family gathering and the two became good friends almost immediately. "He was the first male I could actually harmonize with," she recalls. Eventually, the couple married and went on to become co-writers of some of the most memorable classic rock hits.

After graduation in 1962 and following a High School English teaching career which lasted three and one half weeks, she began free-lancing and working out of the offices of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a pair of hot songwriters in their own right, in Broadway's Brill Building, one of the music business headquarters of that time. She wrote songs with Doc Pomus and Tony Powers and enjoyed her first chart success with "This Is It," by Jay and the Americans, and "He's Got The Power," by the Exciters. She and Barry formed The Raindrops, who skimmed the top 10 with "What A Guy" and "The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget."

Teaming with Phil Spector, the two managed number one hits with "Be My Baby," Da Doo Ron Ron," "And Then He Kissed Me," "Chapel Of Love" and "River Deep, Mountain High." Greenwich and Barry also continued their successes with such number one smashes as "Hanky Panky," and co-written with Shadow Morton, the epic "Leader Of The Pack." During these years, too, Greenwich reigned as one of New York's top demo singers and session vocal arrangers/singers, working with artists ranging from Dusty Springfield and Lesley Gore to Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra. During one of the many demo sessions in which she was involved, Greenwich met and "discovered" Neil Diamond and went on to co-produce such early Diamond hits as "Cherry, Cherry" and "Kentucky Woman," doing background vocals as well.

During the latter part of the 60's, Greenwich found continued success in collaborations with Bob Crewe, in writing for The Hardy Boys TV series, and in singing on popular commercials for Cheerios, Clairol and Ford Mustang, as well as on her Clio-nominated "Oo La La Sasson" Jeans spot. She continued to be one of the city's busiest female jingle writers and singers through the 70's and into the 80's.

She has also worked with Desmond Child, Nona Hendryx, Cyndi Lauper and Paul Shaffer, among others. In 1984, she opened "Leader Of The Pack," a show about her own life and music, at New York's well-known music showplace, The Bottom Line in Greenwich Village. It's success led to a 1985 Broadway opening at the Ambassador Theater, where it ran for five months, in the process garnering a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical, a Grammy nomination for Best Cast Album and winning the New York Music Award for Best Broadway Musical.

Ellie was inducted into "The Songwriters Hall Of Fame" in 1991, and in 1998 she was presented with the "Touchstone Award," by Women In Music, and on November 27, 2000, Ellie was included in the ‘Newsday' series "Long Islander Of The Century".

"Leader Of The Pack" went on to tour in both England and Australia
Not bad for a kid who grew up on the corner of Starlight and Springtime Lanes in Levitown!!!

Ellie is survived by her sister, Laura Weiner, brother-in-law, Robert Weiner, nephew, Richard, and niece, Jessica.

In lieu of flowers, donations should be sent to VH1 Save the Music Foundation.

 



Related Articles

More Hot Stories For You