The Kennedy Center

Neil Diamond


(Singer and songwriter; born January 24, 1941, in New York, NY)
Neil Diamond is among the most accomplished pop songwriters of our era. In five prolific decades he has created one of the most enduring catalogs of American popular music. Encompassing and transforming the many styles that define American popular music--from rock , folk and blues to country, Tin Pan Alley and top 40 pop--he has written some of our most treasured songs: "Solitary Man," "Cherry, Cherry," "Cracklin' Rosie," "Holly, Holly," "Sweet Caroline," "I Am…I Said," "Song Sung Blue," "Kentucky Woman," "America." His music has bridged generations of American tastes and fans. Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Chris Isaak, Johnny Cash, and Michael Ball have covered his songs. He famously sang with Barbra Streisand on 1978's "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." The Monkees scored their biggest hit with Diamond's "I'm a Believer." 

Diamond has recorded 39 top 10 singles, landed more than 50 singles in Billboard's Hot 100 chart and nearly as many albums in the Top 200 chart, including nine consecutive platinum hits. That translates into an astonishing 128 million records sold.

He is also one of our era's most thrilling live performers. He holds the record for consecutive sold-out concerts at massive venues such as the 18,000-seat Forum in Los Angeles, the 20,000-seat Madison Square Garden, and London's Wembley Arena.

This summer--July 2011--his first London arena shows in three years received standing ovations from sold out audiences with the London Evening Standard describing them as "never less than brilliant fun." Last fall, Diamond's latest recording, Dreams, a 14-song collection of his favorite songs by other composers, was universally acclaimed.

Neil Diamond's music has stood the test of time. Barry Egan in The Irish Independent gives one explanation: "Neil Diamond, now in his eighth decade, has given the world songs with life filled to the brim."

Born in Brooklyn, Diamond was raised by Jewish parents of Polish and Russian descent. He was given a $9 dollar guitar as a birthday present and at the age of 16, he wrote his first song, "Hear Them Bells." He went to Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School and sang in the chorus with classmate Barbra Streisand. From there it was on to New York University, which he attended on a fencing scholarship, studied medicine, but dropped out for a $50-a-week contract writing songs for Sunbeam Music, working for a while in the legendary Brill Building, but then renting a small room above the Birdland jazz club where he began turning out the kinds of songs that would take him onto the world stage.
Diamond was signed to Bert Berns' Bang Records and his initial session in 1966 produced his first three singles: "Solitary Man," Cherry Cherry," and "I Got the Feelin' (Oh No, No)." That same year he made a national impact through television appearing on American Bandstand, performing on TV talk shows and even playing a rock singer on the popular hit Mannix. That was also the year The Monkees performed his "I'm A Believer" on their short-lived, but massively popular television show.
A move to the West Coast in 1968 led to his first Number One hit "Cracklin' Rosie" in 1970, making him the nation's top-selling male singer. A long-term contract in 1973 with Columbia Records--at the time a record-breaking $5 million deal--was launched with the best-selling soundtrack for the film Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a Golden Globe Award winner that stayed on the charts for nearly a year and sold 10 million copies. Back in New York, he set another record--a 20-performance one-man show on Broadway, which was the first for a rock star.

Transitioning from rock and roll to a more mature creative style turned out to be a good move, producing such adult pop hits in the ‘70s and ‘80s as "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," "September Morn," "Love on the Rocks," and "Heartlight." Although he had been saying no to Hollywood for some time, in 1980 he finally gave in appearing as the son of a Jewish cantor trying to succeed in the music industry. The movie was The Jazz Singer, and he took the role partly as a tribute to one of his great childhood idols, Al Jolson. He co-starred with Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. The reviews were negative, to put it mildly, but it's a measure of Diamond's star power at the time that the film actually took in at the box office more than three times its budget and produced a hit single, "America," which gained national prominence when TV news broadcasts used it to underscore the return of the American hostages from Iran. Diamond, however, never acted in the movies again, other than playing himself (most notably alongside Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young in the 1978 documentary The Last Waltz). His music, however, can be heard in countless films ranging from 1969's Cactus Flower to 1994's Pulp Fiction to the recent Shrek Forever After.

Honored with inclusion into the Songwriter Hall of Fame in 1984, Diamond also was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2011, where Paul Simon said: "He was known as the Jewish Elvis Presley. In fact, in many synagogues across the country Elvis was considered a bogus Neil Diamond."

Diamond has been a vital creator in American pop music throughout a half century that saw amazing and complex changes in the nation's popular culture."All my songs are based on melody," Diamond himself explains this phenomenon."Melody will always exist no matter what rhythmic changes there are." And Diamond's melodies are sure to endure the ages.
headshot for Neil Diamond