TORONTO — Most of us from a certain generation know the words to Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do and Oh, Carol by heart.
How many know, however, that the 69-year-old singer, composer and producer has not only written songs recorded by Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Elvis Presley, jazz singer Dinah Washington, American Idol Clay Aiken and the Captain and Tennille, but also that he studied piano at the Julliard School?
I discovered that, and learned other tidbits of information, at Sedaka’s May 27 concert at Beth Tzedec Congregation, the first Toronto synagogue to host such a big musical star.
Walking on stage – the sanctuary had been transformed into a state-of-the-art music hall – Sedaka, singing along with his own five-piece band and backup singer, soon had the audience transported back in time.
If anyone was initially uncomfortable with an older Sedaka, he soon proved that his voice is as strong as ever – he still performs up to 60 times a year – and that he still has huge audience appeal. Within two minutes, he was the same Sedaka we always knew.
In between singing his hits, and one newly written tune, he left his piano – on which he demonstrated his skill at playing classical music – to carry on a comfortable banter on stage. We learned that Oh, Carol, was written for a girlfriend, Carole Klein, who went on to become singer Carole King.
Acknowledging his Jewish parents – his father’s roots are Turkish, and his mother’s Russian and Polish – he said that they were unhappy when he gave up his classical musical training to become a pop star. His mother relented, however, when he presented her with a mink coat, “the Hadassah tallit.”
He sang two Yiddish songs, My Yiddishe Mama and Mein Shtetela Belz, with Beth Tzedec cantor Simon Spiro, a former pop music performer from London, England who went on stage with a cellphone and pretended to be talking to his mother-in-law. “No, no, not Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka,” he said.
After speaking proudly about his 45-year marriage and his two children, Dara, a recording artist and vocalist for television and radio commercials, and Marc, who writes for film and television, Sedaka sang a duet with Dara, who performed via video.
While waiting for his daughter to appear on the screen, Sedaka said he wouldn’t get off the stage until her face appeared. “I want to kvell.”
He bragged about his three grandchildren who he said he plans to put through college, and at that moment we all saw him as a Jewish father and zaide who has just happened to write over 1,000 songs in his more than 50-year career.
Also on video was an original performance – “one of the first music videos,” Sedaka said – of him singing Calendar Girl, and a duet with Dinah Washington.
The Calendar Girl video may portray a much younger Sedaka, but it was evident from the Beth Tzedec concert that he still has the same zeal for performing.