Fifty-five years ago, singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka presented the world’s most popular female singer with the biggest hit of her career, the Fort Lauderdale beach anthem, Where the Boys Are.
On Thursday, pop star Connie Francis returns the favor — in Broward, appropriately — by presenting Sedaka with a lifetime achievement award.
“Neil and I, our lives have been linked together amazingly,” says Francis, 76, the No. 1-selling female vocal artist of the 1950s and ’60s. “I was the first person who gave Neil a break with Stupid Cupid. Every time I wanted a hit record and everybody else in New York kept coming up dry, I would go back to the well — and that was Neil and [songwriting partner Howard Greenfield]. They just wrote spectacular songs for me. They wrote songs of the day.”
Sedaka, 75, will receive the Connie Francis Lifetime Achievement Award during a luncheon Thursday at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood, at a Footlighters social club benefit for sick and indigent performers.
“There are those who have a great passion for performing, for music, for audience and are very talented, but it is a very competitive business and they are out there doing what they love to do,” Sedaka says. “Unfortunately, it takes one person to put support and money behind them, to manage them properly. That sometimes is difficult to find. I was lucky enough over the years to find that in several instances, to find that one person who believed in me enough and was able to support me.”
Among the old-time celebs also scheduled to pay tribute to Sedaka: Jay Black, formerly of Jay and the Americans; Pat Cooper; Joni James; and Ben E. King.
Timing accounts for much show business success, says Sedaka, who beginning in 1958 co-wrote with Greenfield some of the biggest pop hits of the era: Calendar Girl (1961), Happy Birthday Sweet 16 (1961), the No. 1 Breaking Up is Hard to Do (1962), Captain & Tennille’s Grammy-winning Love Will Keep Us Together (1975) and 1960’s Where the Boys Are.
“You do need to be at the right place at the right time and you better be prepared when that opportunity comes that you have the goods,” Sedaka says. “You have to have that passion, that drive. You want to do this more than anything else in the world. I was from a poor family, as Connie was. We wanted to be stars. We wanted to show our friends and family that we can do it. She was my hero. I was so thrilled when I followed in her footsteps.”
Sedaka and Greenfield (who died of AIDS complications in 1985) were among the first big rock ’n’ roll teams to come out of producer Don Kirshner’s legendary Brill Building office in New York City.
“I was the first in the Brill Building to sing my own hits, sing my own songs,” Sedaka says. Other Brill songwriting teams of the era included Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
Sedaka has written about 800 songs. “They probably will outlive me,” he says. “I have been doing it almost 60 years. I love every minute of it. I never get tired of singing those songs, the original rock-and-roll songs.”
He still performs about 20 concerts a year and is preparing an autobiographical Broadway musical, as well as writing songs for a new album that he expects will be recorded by contemporary stars including Lady Gaga, Sam Smith and Robert Plant.
For the moment, Sedaka looks forward to reuniting with his old pal, Broward resident Connie Francis.
“She is probably one of the great voices of our time. The most pure, the most clear, the most emotional. It’s a voice that transcends the language barrier,” he says glowingly. “She’s made it all over the world. Maybe she has not gotten her due, but she certainly has left an imprint all over the world and has been an inspiration to many, many singers. And me as well.”