At 71, singer/songwriter Neil Diamond could easily settle into retirement, looking back on his nearly 50-year recording career, 125 million records sold and 39 top-40 hit songs.
But Diamond is not ready to get out of the limelight yet. He is currently on a 31-city North American concert tour that includes a stop in Seattle on July 23 at Key Arena.
Diamond has much to beam about, especially events in his life over the last two years. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and ended that year as a Kennedy Center honoree for lifetime achievement in the performing arts. On April 21, Diamond married his 41-year-old manager Katie McNeil.
“I feel so fortunate to make my dream a lifetime’s work,” said Diamond in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “Having Katie with me, being honored over the past two years, I am as excited about singing and songwriting now as I ever was. I feel that I have been rejuvenated. I’m looking forward to another 20 years of singing and songwriting.”
Diamond seems to be humble enough to avoid the excesses of stardom. Diamond’s last two CDs, “Twelve Songs” (2005) and “Home Before Dark” (2008), gave Diamond the status of being the oldest artist to reach number one on the Billboard music charts.
Opening his tour in Fort Lauderdale on June 1, Diamond sang 29 songs in a two-hour concert without an opening act or intermission. Dressed all in black, Diamond performed his most beloved songs from the past five decades, ranging from his first hit “Cherry, Cherry” (1966) to “Hell Yeah” (2005) with his 14-piece band.
Most memorable for Diamond fans were his signature tunes “America,” “I Am I Said,” “I’m A Believer” and “Sweet Caroline,” which fans sang along to.
“I am grateful that, after all these years, people resonate with my songs. I try to be honest and truthful in everything I do, just the same when I was struggling in the 1960s. But for me, it is not the fame or money that moves me — it is the challenge of expressing myself in new songs.”
Diamond recreated, to a degree, his Jewish upbringing when he starred in the film “The Jazz Singer”(1980), a remake of the tale of a cantor who found fame as a pop singer.
“Even though my parents wanted me to become a doctor and not a cantor, the film is a tribute to my Jewish heritage. I worked very hard to retell this classic story of a Jewish cantor who left his expected place in society for a world in show business. I loved the retelling of the Jewish experience. So much of the story reminds me of my grandparents and their kind of life. They were immigrants to America and taught Yiddish to me as a child,” he said.
“I wanted Yiddish in this movie. In fact, I tried to convince the director at one point to have the whole opening in Yiddish with subtitles as they did in ‘The Godfather.’ Yiddish is a beautiful language and I wanted to do my part to keep it alive,” Diamond said.
Born in Brooklyn in 1941 to Akeeba and Rose Diamond, young Neil knew he wanted a career in music, but to satisfy his father’s wishes for a stable career, he enrolled as a pre-med student at New York University and was awarded a fencing scholarship.
After taking his first job as a songwriter for $50 a week in 1961, Diamond has been hooked on a music career ever since.
His first marriage to Jewish schoolteacher Jaye Posner, in 1963, with whom he had two daughters, lasted for six years. Diamond married Marcia Murphy in 1969 and had two sons with her before divorcing in 1994.
Diamond has performed for Chabad, singing “America” at the 2002 “L’Chaim To Life Telethon” and donated funds to Hebrew University of Jerusalem at a 2003 dinner in honor of Barbra Streisand (with whom he sang a duet in “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”).
Although Diamond has some disdain for organized religion, he wants to embrace Jewishness and raises funds for organizations he personally admires.
“I am Jewish. I believe in God, love the traditions I learned growing up, and tend to be very spiritual, so I want to pass on to my four grandchildren all I know about their heritage.”
Following the end of the concert tour in September, Diamond will be going on a six-month honeymoon to New York, Israel and Italy, among other stops.
“I want Katie to know everything about me and my past. Aside from my natural ties to New York City and Israel, my mother has relatives in Italy, so we look forward to a wonderful journey together.”