Neil Sedaka still has the songs in his heart - LancasterOnline: Entertainment

Neil Sedaka still has the songs in his heart

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Posted: Sunday, March 4, 2012 12:04 am | Updated: 2:02 pm, Thu Sep 12, 2013.

When the pop duo Captain & Tennille crooned their smash 1975 cover of Neil Sedaka's "Love Will Keep Us Together," singer Toni Tennille gave a shout-out to the prolific singer and songwriter by adding the line "Sedaka is back" at the end of the tune.

It heralded the comeback of Sedaka after a rough patch in a career that has spanned more than a half-century.

No matter your age, you probably know the work of Sedaka, who will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, March 16, at American Music Theatre. His songs span generations.

Remember Connie Francis? That was Sedaka who penned the golden-voiced singer's signature tune, "Where the Boys Are," in 1960. Did you hit adolescence doing the Twist, while Jack and Jackie Kennedy were making the White House hip? Chances are, you were doing it to such classics as "Happy Birthday Sweet 16" and "Calendar Girl."

Or maybe you came of age a little later, in the mid-1970s. That's when Sedaka, emerging from a career slump, saw his name back in lights big-time when he re-tooled his bouncy 1962 hit "Breaking up Is Hard to Do" into a soulful, slow-tempo ballad of love and loss, in 1976. That was right on the heels of the elegant 1975 love anthem "Laughter in the Rain" and the thoughtful "The Immigrant," a salute to both the American promise and fellow legend John Lennon, who was facing immigration problems at the time.

Yes, you know Neil Sedaka, and he knows Lancaster County.

"I'm doing this 55 years," said Sedaka, 72, who has toured from Australia to the United Kingdom to Amish country. "I've been to the area many times."

Sedaka will hit the AMT stage with drums, bass, keyboard, a female vocalist and a horn player, he said in a telephone interview from New York, where he and his wife of almost 50 years, Leba, split their time with a home in Los Angeles.

At AMT, there will be hits old and new, the entertainer promised before injecting a note of humility into the conversation.

"I'm very proud of being part of the American history of rock 'n' roll."

That history has classical origins.

"I started piano at 8 and played until I was 19," the Brooklyn-born Sedaka said of his formative years. At 16, the young musician was receiving accolades from no less than renowned classical pianist Arthur Rubenstein.

Yet it was rock 'n' roll that ultimately called. While still a young man, Sedaka partnered with his neighbor and soon-to-be artistic collaborator, Howard Greenfield. "He knocked at my door," Sedaka recalled of the budding poet and lyricist, and while it's a cliché to say the rest is history, the rest was, well, history."

Between 1959 and 1963, Sedaka and Greenfield wrote chart-topping hits together and on their own, and played a role in the immortal "Brill Building" sound, named for the New York office building that housed scores of legendary performers, managers and arrangers.

Then came the Beatles, and the 1964 wave known as the British Invasion. Sedaka wasn't part of the wave.

"I was off the charts for 11 years," Sedaka said, though he was able to keep writing hits for other artists, including Frank Sinatra ("The Hungry Years") and Elvis Presley ("Solitaire"). By 1972, Sedaka was looking to reintroduce himself to the American public.

He released an album titled "Emergence" that year. Later, rock legend Elton John tapped Sedaka to join his up-and-coming record label, Rocket Records. Thus came the era of "Sedaka is back," with two new albums and two hits: "Bad Blood" and that memorable "Laughter in the Rain."

A reinvention of "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" turned that "sad lyric with a happy tune," as Sedaka called it, into something you might hear in a nightclub at 3 a.m. after a bad breakup, crooned by a jazz diva. That was the idea, Sedaka said.

"Dinah Washington - it was her voice in my head," Sedaka said of the smoky-voiced singer.

The mid-1970s peaked for Sedaka when the husband-and-wife team of Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille, aka Captain & Tennille, did their homage to the songwriter with "Love Will Keep Us Together," capped by that acknowledgment that Sedaka, indeed, was back.

"That was lovely of her," Sedaka said of Tennille.

And Sedaka is not only long back on the scene, but shows no signs of slowing down.

"I'm going back to my roots as a classical musician," he said, noting a new symphonic work and a piano concerto he has crafted. A biographical musical, appropriately titled "Laughter in the Rain," successfully toured regional theaters in the United Kingdom.

Sedaka has some personal motivation for staying busy. He and Leba are the parents of daughter Dara, a vocalist in her own right, and son Marc, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, who, with wife Samantha, is the parent of Sedaka's grandchildren, twins Amanda and Charlotte, and Michael Emerson.

The kids inspired Sedaka to create a children's album, "Waking Up Is Hard To Do," in 2009, in which Sedaka songs were re-written with catchy, youth-oriented lyrics. A new children's book/album combo, "Dinosaur Pet," is also in the works. The title is to be set to Sedaka's "Calendar Girl."

"The creative person always has this drive to top themselves," said Sedaka, who credits his success in part to his wife for standing by him for five decades.

"A creative person is moody," he admitted. She "gets the award" for patience, he said.

That, he said with a laugh, "and all the clothes she wants."

Neil Sedaka will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, March 16, at American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highway East. For ticket information, call 397-7700 or log on to amtshows.com.

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