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Remembering Ellie Greenwich

ellie
Ellie Greenwich at work, circa 1967

On Wednesday, August 26th the music world lost a legend of song & voice when composer/session singer extraordinaire Ellie Greenwich died of heart failure in NYC - weeks after she suffered a massive stroke. Ellie was 68 years old.

Ellen Louise Greenwich was a multiple threat - songwriter, studio musician, record producer/label executive, commercial jingle creator, entrepreneur, Broadway stage star and a stauch supporter of music education. A trailblazer in her own way, Ellie did so thanks in part to the massive song catalog she created - both on her own and with partners such as composer Tony Powers, producer Bob Crewe as well as Jeff Barry - the latter was also her husband during the early 1960s.

Ellie's life & accomplishments should serve as a "how-to" for
anyone who wants to pursue a career in the music biz, no matter if one desires to be a singer, songwriter and have a personal life at he same time. Ellie seemed to almost do it all.

1) HAVE A DREAM AND START EARLY - Ellie started writing songs in her early teens and studied the accordion. While in high school,she formed a "girl group" called the Jivettes & performed her
original songs at events ranging from talent shows to charity events.

2) RALLY SUPPORT FROM FAMILY - Mom & Dad Greenwich footed the bill for the accordion lessons as well as transported the teenaged Ellie to gigs.

3) GET AN EDUCATION - When Ellie met Archie Bleyer, the founder of Cadence Records (the early home of the Everly Brothers), he advised her to stick with the songwriting - and go to college. Ellie did just that - starting out at Queens College, then transferring to Hofstra University. She earned a BA in English and graduated with honors from Hofstra.

4) GO FOR IT..ONE THING AT A TIME - While in college, Ellie recorded her first single, "Silly Isn't It", for RCA Victor under the name "Ellie Gaye". After graduation, Ellie taught high school English. Three weeks into the teaching stint, she was hired by the team of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller as a songwriter for their publishing company. Then came the hit tunes, session work, producing, etc.

5) MARRIAGE & CAREER, YOU CAN DO BOTH - Ellie met songwriter Jeff Barry while she was still in college. After dating then marriage, Jeff & Ellie became a songwriting/production force. The hits say it all - "Be My Baby", "Chapel Of Love", "Leader Of The Pack", "He's The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget", "Hanky Panky", "River Deep - Mountain High".

6) IF IT DON'T WORK OUT - They were a successful team musically but the marriage didn't last - Jeff & Ellie divorced by the mid 1960s. They still worked together on songs and producing artists such as Neil Diamond long after they split up as husband & wife.

7) KEEP THE DAY JOB - Ellie continued with the session work - cutting background vocals on recordings produced by Bob Crewe (who called her the "creme de la creme" of studio singers) and working with the Sweet Inspirations on Aretha Franklin's "Chain Of Fools" (Ellie re-arranged the vocal parts). Ellie would eventually become one of the top (if not THE top) studio/demo singers of the recording industry.

8) EXPAND THE HORIZONS - In 1967, Ellie formed Pineywood Music with fellow composer/producer Mike Rashkow and over a period of three years they created music for Dusty Springfield, the Hardy Boys cartoon series and Ellie herself. In addition to composing & records, Ellie was a "first-call" jingle singer for radio & TV commercials. As a result of this work, she formed Jingle Habitat with Steve Tudanger & Steve Feldman to write/produce jingles. Ellie's work earned her nominations for several Clio Awards and resulted in her induction into the Clio Hall of Fame. Her vocals graced many commercials for Cheerios, Clairol and the Ford Mustang.

9) CASH IN ON YOUR WORK - After a stint at the Bottom Line, the musical "Leader Of The Pack" debuted on Broadway in 1985 starring Ellie, Darlene Love and Patrick Cassidy. Not only did the show earn a Tony & Grammy nomination, it was a great way for Ellie to collect some serious royalties from her songs - and having fun doing so!!!

10) GIVE BACK & PASS IT ON - The old school teacher in Ellie wasn't placed on the shelf. Ellie not only encouraged elementary & high schools to produce "Leader Of The Pack" for their respective communities, she made herself & the songs readily available for music teachers as well as students via her website.

The best way to remember Ellie Greenwich? Next time you hear the opening beat of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" or see Darlene Love perform "Christmas Please Come Home" on David Letterman's show at holiday time, turn up the volume and make it loud enough for the heavens to hear.

Thank you, Ellie - for the great music you created

Sunshine After The Rain - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBaPkCFOklg
I Want You To Be My Baby - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IhWP9rl8cc
The Ronettes Be My Baby live - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7pmwqDLxU0

Comments

  • Heikki 4 years ago

    A good tribute to a great writer! Everybody remembers "River Deep - Mountain High", but that same Phil Spector partly-produced album contains a hidden gem and one of my all-time favourites, "I'll Never Need More Than This" by Ellie.

  • Pwajdeur~Timothy Swanstrom-Stage 4 years ago

    Excellent and inspirational article Kevin! THANK YOU, I wasn't aware of Ellie, so I look forward to hearing more from the links and songs you mentioned! This industry(music) is an interesting one to say the least! I appreciate your style of writing Kevin, it is fun to see Ellie's life story strewn in a how to manual! I've even printed off the article as a reminder and tool to stay on focus in my pursuits to manage my own musical and theatre career! I'll make sure to blast the music you suggested to the Heavens in Ellie's remembrance! Thank you again Kevin, keep these artcles coming!

  • Mark Speck 4 years ago

    If she's not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she should be!!

  • chris 4 years ago

    Another great article, Kevin. Ellie's not currently in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but she is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. That might be a better deal.

  • Tony Russi 4 years ago

    Great article, Kevin.Ellie Greenwich songs are part of the soundtrack of my life, I still remember the day I bought the 45 "He's Got the Power" by the Exciters with a silver dollar my grandma gave me.

  • Cindy 4 years ago

    Nice article. I didn't know the person behind the music that's been so familiar to me all these years. Her passing is sad but she left a wonderful legacy that can still be enjoyed. Thanks for sharing her gift with us.
    Nice job, Kev!
    Cindy

  • Tom Richard 4 years ago

    Nice article. You'll all be happy to know that Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry will be inducted into the Rock & Roll HOF in the non-performers category in 2010.

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