Eleanor Louise "Ellie" Greenwich (October 23, 1940 – August 26, 2009) was an American pop music singer, songwriter, and record producer. She was one of the major influences on the 60's rock and roll, a music that continues alive and well today. Her songs, which have sold in the tens of millions, have earned her 25 gold and platinum records.
Eleanor Louise Greenwich was born on October 23, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York. When Ellie Greenwich was 10 years old, her family moved out of New York City to Levittown, New York, a town that would serve as a model for the suburbs that sprang up throughout the United States after World War II. Greenwich's childhood was spent creatively, with her time spent dancing, singing even winning a local newspaper's poetry contest. Though she first learned to play music on the accordion, the budding songwriter quickly taught herself piano and began to compose by the age of 13.
In high school, Greenwich formed a band called The Jivettes with two of her friends and performed at local schools and hospitals. It was then that her mother arranged to have her meet with Archie Bleyer, president of Cadence Records. Bleyer knew raw talent when he saw it, but advised the young Greenwich to "keep writing, but finish school… the music business will always be there." Greenwich did release one single under the pseudonym Ellie Gaye, but it flopped. She returned to studying full-time, graduating from Hoftstra University with high honors and a bachelors degree in English literature. While at school, she met fellow songwriter Jeff Barry at a party; Barry would later become her professional partner as well as her husband.
In 1962, the year she graduated from college, Greenwich spent exactly three and a half weeks as a high school English teacher before giving up teaching to pursue songwriting full time. She found a professional home in the offices of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were part of a group of musical greats called the "Brill Building Writers." The two signed Greenwich to their publishing company, Trio Music, officially launching her career as a hit maker.
Greenwich joined a team of songwriting superstars—Carole King, Gerry Golfin, Neil Sedaka, Phil Spector, Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Howie Greenfield—who would shape the sound of their generation.
But Greenwich and the other female members of this songwriting group were not entirely immune to the pressures of the music industry's old boys club. Traditionally, the only way for a woman to become famous was to sing; Greenwich and her friends King and Weil broke new ground by hitting it big as songwriters. Greenwich eventually specialized in writing hit songs for girl groups, penning some of the most famous female-driven hits of the decade.
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. In addition to "What A Guy" (actually a demo, with Greenwich on piano and Barry on drums, sold to Jubilee Records and released as the first Raindrops single) and the U.S. Top 20 hit "The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget," the couple wrote and recorded "Hanky Panky", which later became a hit for Tommy James and the Shondells in 1966 and, in 1964, "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", was taken to the No. 1 spot on the charts, in both the UK and the US, by Manfred Mann.
( Above is the 1963 press photo of The Raindrops featuring Jeff, Ellie and her sister Laura.)
Greenwich and Barry collaborated with legendary producer Phil Spector on hits such as "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "And Then He Kissed Me" for The Crystals and "Be My Baby" for The Ronettes.
(This is a rare shot from a 1964 BMI dinner. L-R Artie Ripp, Phil Spector, Ellie & Jerry Leiber. Back: Jeff Barry, Paul Case & Ed Silvers)
In 1964, Leiber and Stoller left the Brill Building to form Red Bird Records, taking Greenwich and Barry along as fellow songwriters. The combined talent and drive of Leiber, Stoller, Greenwich, Barry and producer George "Shadow" Morton virtually defined the dominant girl-group sound of the era. In the mid-1960s, Greenwich wrote much of her greatest material, records such as "River Deep, Mountain High" for Tina Turner and a remake of "Chapel of Love" for The Dixie Cups (originally performed by the Ronettes). It was also during this time that Greenwich penned her most famous song, "Leader of the Pack," which she and Barry co-wrote for The Shangri-Las. To this day, it remains her most enduring hit.
In 1965, Barry and Greenwich recorded their own song, "Our Love Can Still Be Saved," which won decent airplay. But the song's title said it all: Their marriage was on the rocks and by the end of the year, the couple divorced. They continued to work together for several years after the breakup, but by the end of the decade their songwriting partnership had dissolved like their marriage had done earlier. Greenwich struck out on her own.
The late 1960s and '70s were a time of creative and artistic expansion for Greenwich, as she furthered her career as a producer at a time when female producers were scarce. She wrote Clio Award-winning jingles for television commercials and theme songs for shows like The Hardy Boys (1977-79), even while singing in demo sessions and arranging vocals for artists such as Dusty Springfield, Ella Fitzgerald, Leslie Gore, Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra. Greenwich also discovered Neil Diamond during these sessions and produced his early hits like "Cherry Cherry" and "Kentucky Woman."
In 1971, following the enormous success of fellow Brill Building alumna King's Tapestry, which went on to become one of the highest-selling albums of all time, Greenwich began feeling pressure to follow with her own record. In 1973, Greenwich released Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung, but her heart wasn't really in it. The album performed reasonably well in Europe but not as well in the United States. Greenwich was so scared to sing live on stage, in fact, that she lip-synched during the tour.
In the early 1980s, Greenwich happened to stop by a New York club called the Bottom Line one night to see her friends Ellen Foley, a songwriter, and Nona Hendryx, an R&B singer, perform. This led to an auspicious meeting with the club's owner, leading to plans for an off-Broadway show, Leader of the Pack, based on her life and music. The production opened at The Bottom Line in 1984. After moving to Broadway in 1985, the show enjoyed an impressive run, garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Cast Album, a Tony nomination for Best Musical and a New York Music Award for Best Broadway Musical.
Six years later, in 1991, Greenwich and Barry were jointly inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. Through the 1990s and into the 21st century, Greenwich continued to explore new creative avenues: writing a sitcom, drafting an original Broadway musical, writing the song "Christmas, Baby Please Come Home," which became a holiday fixture on Late Night With David Letterman. In 2004, Greenwich and Barry learned that six of their songs made the list of Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Best Songs. Her songs have been covered by myriad artists, including Mariah Carey, The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Elton John, Death Cab for Cutie, Melissa Etheridge and Meatloaf.
At the age of 68, Greenwich died of a heart attack on August 26, 2009 at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, where she had been admitted a few days earlier for treatment of pneumonia. She left an astounding legacy of hit songs that are nearly ubiquitous in American culture. (Info edited mainly from biography.com)