Full name, Neil Leslie Diamond; born January 24, 1941, in Brooklyn, N.Y.; son of Kieve (a dry goods store proprietor) and Rose Diamond; married; second wife's name, Marcia Murphy; children: (first marriage) Marjorie, Elyn; (second marriage) Jesse, Micah. Education: Attended New York University. Addresses: Office --c/o Columbia Records, 1801 Century Park W., Los Angeles, Calif., 90067.
Neil Diamond is pop music's perennial chart-topper, a singer-songwriter with a devoted international following. In The Best of the Music Makers, George T. Simon calls Diamond "a balance between sexy superstar and nice boy from Brooklyn" who "...has a broad appeal to an audience that cuts across age levels, sophistication levels, and the traditional musical-preference categories." Diamond has been performing his own compositions since 1966, and his long list of hits--from "Cherry, Cherry" to "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and "Heart Light"--has spanned some 15 years. While Simon describes the singer's work as "rock domesticated for everyone," Time magazine contributor Jay Cocks sees Diamond otherwise. "Neil Diamond is ... fronting a big sound," Cocks writes. "He has written and sung some of the smoothest and best contemporary pop, yet he remains a performer in search of a tradition, a megabucks pilgrim looking for roots he never had and a place in which to settle." Rock, even soft-rock, has never been Diamond's milieu; it is equally wrong to categorize him as a club singer in the Frank Sinatra/Wayne Newton vein. In fact, Cocks concludes, Diamond "is revealed as a rouser, a showman, a kind of bandmaster of the American mainstream." According to Robert Christgau in the New York Daily News, Diamond's singing "combines rawness and control in a way that can please both rock fans ... and stylish young adults."
Some of Diamond's best lyrics reflect a certain confusion about identity and disillusionment overcome only by immersing oneself in song. The adult personality who writes such unconventional pop verses can be traced to Neil Leslie Diamond, an insecure Jewish boy who grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Diamond changed schools nine times as a child, and as he was intensely shy, he had great difficulty making friends. Instead, he immersed himself in a fantasy world populated by imaginary characters and idolized the singing cowboys he saw in movies.
When Diamond was 16 he bought a second-hand guitar, learned some chord progressions, and began to compose songs. He also began to sing with the Erasmus Hall High School chorus group, a 100-member glee club that included Barbra Streisand. Diamond was a good student, so after high school he enrolled in pre-medical studies at New York University. He was in his senior year at NYU when the Sunbeam Music Company, a Tin Pan Alley songwriting mill, offered him a 16-week contract. He dropped out of college and never returned. "It just absorbed me and became more and more important as the years passed."
Between 1962 and 1965 Diamond worked at a number of Tin Pan Alley companies, trying to crank out mainstream tunes to order. Finally, in 1965, he decided to begin writing songs that he wanted to sing himself. He performed his work at the Bitter End, a Greenwich Village nightclub, where he attracted the attention of Bert Berns, a producer who was beginning a new label, Bang Records. In 1966 Diamond cut three hit singles for Bang: "Solitary Man," "Cherry, Cherry," and "I Got a Feelin'." He also contributed a song, "I'm a Believer," to the Monkees, who propelled it to a 10 million-selling, number one hit. Diamond went on in 1967 to release several more bestselling songs, including "Kentucky Woman" and "You Get to Me."
The young artist was not satisfied with Berns and Bang Records, however, so in 1968 he moved to the Uni label (a division of MCA's Universal Studios) in Los Angeles. With greater control over his own material and more artistic latitude, Diamond blossomed into an unusual mainstream singer whose work reflected irony, inner turmoil, and psychological depth. He made the Billboard top ten with songs as diverse as the jaunty "Cracklin' Rosie," the satirical "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show," and cryptic "I Am, I Said." By 1972 he was a major force in pop music. He became the first pop-rock artist to headline a musical performance on Broadway at the prestigious Winter Garden Theatre, and he also travelled widely, giving concerts in every major American city.
The strain caught up with Diamond after his Winter Garden engagement, and he went into temporary retirement. The hiatus lasted forty months; he spent the time undergoing intense psychotherapy, regaining his family ties, and studying music theory. Ironically, his few recordings during this period were among his most successful. His 1973 soundtrack for the film Jonathan Livingston Seagull won a Grammy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and an Oscar nomination. Still, Simon notes, "some predicted that he would be forgotten if he stayed out of the tour circuit for long."
Diamond surprised the doubters when he returned to a full schedule in 1976. He played to sellout crowds in New Zealand and Australia, then returned for a three-performance, $500,000 stint at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. Simultaneously, his concept album Beautiful Noise --and its single "If You Know What I Mean"--went gold. The following year Diamond starred in two television specials on NBC, "The Neil Diamond Special," and "I'm Glad You're Here with Me Tonight." He was also working under a million-dollar-advance-per-album contract with Columbia records.
Such continued success had its drawbacks, however. Diamond's work has always received mixed-to-negative reviews; critics were particularly savage about his starring role in "The Jazz Singer," a 1980 film. An album reviewer for the Rolling Stone Record Guide perhaps summarizes the disdain some rock critics have felt for Diamond. "Diamond was writing potboilers, and his thirst was for Pulitzer-level poesy," the critic contends. "Unfortunately, his imagination and the very blandness of his voice condemned him to setting a model for the radical-[middle-of-the-road] singer/songwriter style of the Seventies.... Like so many of his pop predecessors, his talent is greatest when he reaches for less, not more."
Diamond himself had admitted in People magazine that he used to struggle with doubts about his songs. "After years of working with a psychiatrist," he said, "I have finally forgiven myself for not being Beethoven." Diamond may not be Beethoven, but the emotions he stirs among his millions of fans cannot be discounted--he has endured too long. People quotes screenwriter Stephen Foreman on Diamond's talent: "When you see a crowd of paunchy, middle-aged auto executives in Detroit get up and start dancing in the aisles, you realize something pretty unusual is going on." That "something unusual" is a bond created between Diamond and his audience by his meaningful lyrics, his soulful performances, and his comfortable, catchy tunes. "My music says what I am," Diamond told the New York Post. "It speaks about what I feel as a person, what I dream about, what I hope to be."
by Anne Janette Johnson
Neil Diamond's Career
Songwriter for Sunbeam Music Company and other songwriting shops, 1962-65; songwriter, singer, musician and recording artist, 1965--; composer of soundtracks for films "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," 1973, "Every Which Way But Loose," 1978, and "The Jazz Singer," 1980; actor in film "The Jazz Singer," 1980; host of television variety specials "The Neil Diamond Special," 1977, and "I'm Glad You're Here with Me Tonight," 1977, both NBC.
Neil Diamond's Awards
More than twenty gold and platinum records; received Grammy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Academy Award nomination, all 1974, all for "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" soundtrack; received Grammy Award nomination, with Barbara Streisand, for song "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," 1979.
- Selective Works
- The Feel of Neil Diamond Bang, 1966.
- Shilo Bang, 1968.
- Velvet Gloves & Spit Uni, 1969.
- Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show Uni, 1969.
- Touching Me, Touching You Uni, 1969.
- Gold Uni, 1970.
- Tap Root Manuscript Uni, 1970.
- Stones Uni, 1971.
- Moods Uni, 1972.
- Hot August Night MCA, 1972.
- Rainbow MCA, 1973.
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull Columbia, 1973.
- Serenade Columbia, 1974.
- Beautiful Noise Columbia, 1976.
- Love at the Greek Columbia, 1977.
- I'm Glad You're Here with Me Tonight Columbia, 1977.
- You Don't Bring Me Flowers Columbia, 1978.
- September Morn Columbia, 1980.
- The Jazz Singer Capitol, 1980.
- Best of Neil Diamond World, 1981.
- On the Way to the Sky Columbia, 1981.
- Love Songs MCA, 1981.
- Song Sung Blue Columbia, 1982.
- Heart Light Columbia, 1982.
- Neil Diamond's Twelve Greatest Hits Columbia, 1982.
- Primitive Columbia, 1984.
- Classics of the Early Years Columbia, 1984.
- Headed for the Future Columbia, 1986.
- Neil Diamond Columbia, 1986.
June 24, 2004: Diamond joined Barbra Streisand in a performance to benefit the Democratic presidential campaign. Source: Reuters, www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=QIT1SXKSG22WECRBAEOCFEY?type=topNewsstoryID5498400, June 25, 2004.
- The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, 1979.
- Simon, George T., The Best of the Music Makers, Doubleday, 1979.
- Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1980.
- Daily News (New York), October 6, 1972.
- New York Post, October 30, 1972.
- New York Times, October 1, 1972.
- People, January 22, 1979; April 5, 1982.
- Rolling Stone, September 23, 1976.
- Time, January 26, 1981.