On stage, this singer was in his natural habitat. The larger the crowd, the bigger the thrill. Sadly, in 2018, the superstar performer had to walk away from the stage for good. He canceled his 50 Year Anniversary World Tour midstream with an explanation that fans did not want to hear.
‘Sweet Caroline:’ A Fenway Ball Park Tradition
It started as a personal tribute that became a superstition, but more on that later. “Sweet Caroline” plays at Fenway Park during the seventh-inning stretch to a chorus of enthusiastic Red Sox fans. The tradition is a contemporary addition to Fenway ballpark’s storied legacy.
The stadium, home to the Red Sox since 1912, is a national treasure in itself. And now “Sweet Caroline,” a classic song from 1969, is part of that legacy. Old school fans tend to balk at the newer tradition, but the song has a legacy all its own.
A Song About a Girl Named Caroline
Neil Diamond revealed the inspiration for “Sweet Caroline” at a 2007 birthday party for Caroline Kennedy. The daughter of President John F. Kennedy was turning 50, and the legendary singer was invited as a guest performer. He took the opportunity to tell the backstory. He wanted to thank her for the inspiration since the song was one of his biggest hits.
He said it all started when a published photograph of Caroline at 11 years old caught his eye. He was concerned the revelation would make the guest of honor uncomfortable, but, instead, she seemed flattered.
Diamond Saw the Photo Five Years Before Writing the Song
Back in the early ‘60s, when Diamond was a struggling artist staying at a hotel, he noticed little Caroline on the cover of "Life" magazine. She was as cute as could be, dressed to the tee in riding gear astride her pony. He said he knew there was a song in that image as soon as he saw it.
Five years later, the song came to him. By then, he was married to his first wife, Marcia, so, according to Diamond in 2014, it was also inspired by her. The only thing was that he could not find a rhyme for Marcia.
The Very First Time ‘Sweet Caroline’ Played at Fenway Park
It was a fluke. Amy Tobey, the stadium DJ, played Diamond’s catchy song as a shout-out to her friend who just had a baby. The infant’s name was, you guessed it, Caroline. The crowd loved it. Tobey responded by playing “Sweet Caroline” whenever the Red Sox had some momentum, but only between the seventh and ninth innings and only when they were winning.
She considered it a good luck charm, but she couldn’t help feeling superstitious when Fenway Park management demanded it plays going into the eighth inning of each game.
The Charm Worked
It wasn’t like Tobey had a choice. The orders came from the top. It was in 2002 when Dr. Charles Steinberg became vice president of public affairs at Fenway. He was convinced that the classic show tune contained “transformative powers” and would become a team rally song.
His inkling was correct, and the rest is history. It’s now the fan anthem he hoped it would be and central to the Fenway Park experience.
‘Sweet Caroline’ Brought its Singer to Fenway Stadium
Neil Diamond embraced the love of Red Sox fans and gradually became a part of Boston himself. Though he’s a New Yorker by birth, he is just as loyal to Bostonians, and they accept him as one of them. At the first home game following the tragic Boston Marathon bombings, Diamond performed his song live to a packed Fenway Park.
Standing on the field, mic in hand, and belting out the crowd-favorite tune, fans sang along in joyous abandon, forgetting the attacks, at least for a few minutes.
The “Sweet Caroline” tradition at Fenway has caught on. It’s spread to sporting events nationwide, piping up at college and pro football games, making its way as a stadium anthem.
But at Fenway, some fans think it’s time for it to go. It’s getting old, like a routine, so much so that it’s jokingly referred to as the eighth-inning bathroom break. Some local sports media voices in Boston outwardly decry the tradition, saying they hate it and calling it a national disgrace.
Right in the middle of the third leg of his fiftieth and final world tour, Neil Diamond announced his retirement. All of the Australian and New Zealand dates were canceled. Katie Diamond, his wife, sent a Tweet stating that tickets would be refunded.
The 77-year-old entertainer faced an indomitable foe. Parkinson’s disease was stripping him of the work he loves. On the website, the stated reason was that the disease was making it too difficult to travel and perform.
Diamond, in true form, confronted the news with optimism. “It does have its challenges but, I’m feeling good, and I feel very positive about it,” he told USA Today, adding, “I’m feeling better every day.”
Nothing, apparently, can keep this man off of the stage. Two years after calling it quits, Diamond thrilled fans with a surprise performance. He played all his hits at the MGM Grand Garden Arena charity gala. On stage in Vegas at 79, he was as exhilarating as ever.
The Neil Diamond/Barbara Streisand Link
The 1978 “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” duet hit No. 1 on the charts and stayed there for two weeks. The famous song, however, is not all these two musical artists have in common. Surprisingly, Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand met way back in high school.
It’s hard to imagine two pop superstars coming out of one high school, but it happened. Diamond said they knew each other from the Choral Club. He remembers hanging out in front of the Brooklyn high school smoking cigs.
The Pop Superstar’s First Guitar
Neil Diamond grew up poor. His dad was a Brooklyn shop owner from a Jewish family. The young songwriter attended Erasmus Hall High School. He would earn a fencing scholarship for NY University as a pre-med student.
On his 16th birthday, he received his very first guitar. It was at a summer camp for Jewish children in upstate New York when he decided he had to have the instrument. A performance by Pete Seeger enkindled his love for music instantly. He asked for a guitar and signed up for lessons as soon as he returned.
His True Passion
Diamond began songwriting as soon as he got his hands on his new guitar. It was his “first real interest,” and it remains his greatest passion. Writing poems in high school proved a natural trajectory to writing songs as soon as he acquired the guitar.
In high school, he liked to write songs to impress the girls. It worked so well fellow students asked him to write poems for them to earn a girl’s affections. After high school, he had a summer job as a waiter. He met Jaye Posner, his first wife, at the resort.
Diamond Drops Out of College for Tin Pan Alley
With just ten units to go in his senior year, Diamond quit school for a songwriting gig. The singer found classes at college dull, and all he wanted to do was write songs. He knew his songs were worthy, so he headed out to Tin Pan Alley to hawk one or two.
Taking the train to the music publisher hub in the Flower District of Manhattan, he found few takers. Finally, he landed a job with Sunbeam Music Publishing. They offered him a low-paying 16-week songwriting job. He said farewell to NY University and took the offer.
The First Single "What Will I Do", in 1962.
Diamond and his high school buddy Jack Packer collaborated recording four singles, including the song “What Will I Do,” in 1962. They called themselves Neil & Jack. Sadly, the recording with Columbia flopped. Both Billboard Magazine and Cashbox had given the recording a strong review, so Columbia Records signed Diamond as a solo act later that year.
Unfortunately, that endeavor failed to make it to the charts as well. Columbia dropped Diamond, and he hit the streets writing songs for nearly nothing.
Returning to Tin Pan Alley songwriting, Diamond sold about a song per week. It was not enough, and he found himself trying to eat only 35 cents a day. Adjusting for inflation, he’d be starving in 2020. Who can live on a $3 per day food budget?
Personal ballads composed out of the despair he was experiencing produced songs like "Solitary Man," his first big hit. But he also wrote many other songs that put him on the road to success.
A Hit Single
Songwriting paid off big time. He composed “I’m a Believer” for The Monkees, one of the most popular songs of the ‘60s. The upbeat, No.1 hit revealed signs of Diamond’s hardship with lines like, “Disappointment haunted all my dreams.” But he was on his way up. His songs, recorded by various bands, were making it to the Top 20, and the songwriter was getting noticed.
As it happened, Diamond recorded some of those hits on his first successful solo album. The previous recordings brought notice to his solo effort. Finally, with his 1966 release of "Solitary Man," he scored his very own Billboard Hot 100 hit.
On the Road with The Who
Neil Diamond signed with the start-up label Bang Records. Joining other newly signed acts like Van Morrison and the Strangeloves, his album featured “Solitary Man” and “Cherry, Cherry.” It was time to take The Feel of Neil Diamond on the road. Bang arranged an opening act for The Who.
As a struggling musician, it was shocking to see Pete Townshend smashing his guitar until it broke in half. The Who was at its peak in 1966. Diamond opened with classy tunes that would take pop music into the ‘70s while The Who was banging out “My Generation” to sold-out crowds.
Moving Away from Bang Records
Diamond had written a slew of catchy pop songs for various musicians and some for himself with the New York-based Bang Records. But now, he wanted to write more introspective songs. “Shilo” was his first attempt, a mellow song about an imaginary friend. Bang rejected it. They said they didn’t see a single.
Diamond left Bang after finding a loophole in his contract and signed with Uni (later MCA). His move caused a 10-year lawsuit with Bang and a creative slump, but Diamond prevailed. Settling into Los Angeles in 1969, “Sweet Caroline” was ready to revive his career.
Now it was Neil Diamond who was packing the house. He played multiple bookings to capacity crowds at the fabulous Greek Theater in LA, and he showcased 20 consecutive sold-out dates at the Winter Garden Theater in NYC.
By 1972, he was exhausted. His personal life was also marked by chaos. In 1969 he divorced Jaye Posner and married production assistant Marcia Murphey. He quit live performances until 1976. In the meantime, he scored a Golden Globe and Grammy-winning soundtrack for Hall Bartlett’s film Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. He also composed two solo albums, "Serenade" and "Beautiful Noise."
On the Road Again
Diamond relaunched his tour where he left off. He called it “The Thank You Australia Concert.” On March 9, 1976, 38,000 fans packed the Sydney Sports Ground while millions viewed it on TV. He recorded the live event, now available on DVD.
1976 was a big year. Diamond headlined a major celebrity event at the Aladdin (now Planet Hollywood). The Las Vegas Strip hotel and casino opened a state-of-the-art venue called the Theater for the Performing Arts. Diamond was paid an undisclosed amount to headline the three-day celebrity event. He was reportedly paid more than any other entertainer.
Barbara Streisand & Neil Diamond
These two high school pals from the Brooklyn choral club reunited in the late ‘70s. Streisand covered “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” on her album Songbird. A year earlier, Diamond released a solo version of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” on his album I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight.
And then they sang it together. The duet featuring the decade’s best vocal talent was a top hit right away. Originally, the song was written for an ill-fated TV series. The pair thrilled audiences singing the duet as surprise guests at the 1980 Grammy Award Show.
Out of all of his songs, “America” is Diamond’s pride and joy. Released on The Jazz Singer (1981) album at the height of his career, it was by far the nation’s most popular ballad. Embraced as a patriotic song, “America” has punctuated national events since its inception. It served as a theme song for the ’88 presidential race, for re-dedicating the Statue of Liberty, for the ‘96 Olympic Games, and after 9/11.
For this Brooklyn boy, it is a personal story about his grandparents emigrating to the US. “It’s my gift to them, and it’s very real for me,” he said.
A Near-Death Experience
Diamond was lucky to survive. In the midst of his performance at a 1979 San Francisco concert, Diamond collapsed on stage. The lights came on, and the show was canceled while the singer was rushed to the emergency room.
Convinced he was going to die, Diamond wrote goodbye letters to loved ones. Luckily, a 12-hour emergency surgery removed a tumor from his spine. A long recovery stretching into 1980 followed. Later, he said that he had been having numbness in his leg for years.
Facing Failure Once Again
Not since his poverty-stricken days writing songs for loose change on Tin Pan Alley had Diamond faced disappointment. Collapsing on stage was a definite setback, but then came the first humiliating moment to mark his career.
While he was recovering, the singer/songwriter scored "The Jazz Singer." He then starred in the 1980 film alongside Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. The movie was panned and flopped at the box office. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Diamond received the first-ever Razzie award for his stilted performance. Ironically, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for the same role.
Commercial Ups and Downs
His big-screen ambition was greeted with yawns, but, on the other hand, songs from The Jazz Singer soundtrack were wildly popular. “America,” “Hello Again,” and “Love on the Rocks” all hit the Top 10. On the downside, those would be the tail end of his big hits.
In the ‘80s, record sales dipped, and songs on his new albums merely crept up the charts. At the same time, his concerts were selling out. Diamond was one of the most profitable solo artists for the decade. In 1986 he was the highest-grossing solo act.
Diamond’s Three Marriages
Barely scraping by as a songwriter, the first time he tied the knot was in 1963 to his high school sweetheart Jaye. By 1967, however, the marriage ended with two daughters between them. He was hitched to production assistant Marcia Murphey for 25 years. It was his longest marriage, and they have two sons.
Now he is married to Katie McNeil. He announced the news on Twitter in 2011. He was 70 years old, and his wife was 41 at the time. The songwriter said that his love for her inspired his 2014 album Melody Road.
Nostalgia always wins. By the 2000s, Neil Diamond’s greatest hits were finding their way into MP3 players and were indispensable to ‘70s classic music genres. Sirius Radio launched Neil Diamond Radio in 2008. His music played at parties and events everywhere.
It was a big deal when he belted out “Sweet Caroline” on the rooftop at the Jimmy Kimmel Live Concert Series. Partly because of Kimmel’s Neil Diamond impersonation fail. Booing fans were thrilled when the real Neil grabbed the mic.
Halls of Fame
Within a year, the “Sweet Caroline” singer was cemented into the two most reputed marks of stardom. Diamond was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Paul Simon in 2011 at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC.
A year later, the Hollywood Walk of Fame encrusted his star into the celeb-bedazzled sidewalk on Vine Street in front of the Capitol Records building. At the ceremony, musician Randy Newman said Diamond is “one of those people, rare in entertainment, which America loves.”
Going Out with a Bang
After the ball dropped in 2017 at the New Year’s Eve Times Square celebration, Neil Diamond headlined the freezing-cold event. The Brooklyn-born entertainer sang “Sweet Caroline” to overjoyed revelers singing and dancing along.
Just shy of 77, this would be his last official performance of the beloved ballad. Parkinson’s forced him to retire later that year. But then, of course, he surprised everyone coming out of retirement for the Vegas show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena charity gala.
Neil Diamond’s Songs Have Been Covered by Pretty Much Everybody
The Monkees were the first big pop music act to record songs written by Neil Diamond. Besides “I’m A Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” also made the charts. Added to that is a virtual who’s who list of iconic crooners who performed Diamond’s songs. Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Johnny Cash, Deep Purple, and Johnny Mathis all recorded songs by the “Jewish Elvis.”
In 1983, UB40 covered “Red, Red Wine,” which became a major hit single. And Uma Thurman swayed to “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” covered by Urge Overkill in Tarantino’s cult classic "Pulp Fiction."
The 1982 song “Heartlight” has an interesting backstory. Diamond composed it after attending a screening of "E.T." with Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach at a New York movie theater. Moved by the film, they went to his friends’ place and wrote it.
Though the ditty lacks any specific mention of the alien cinematic legend that inspired it, MCA/Universal sued him anyway. Diamond settled for a $25,000 payout without going to court. “Heartlight” was Diamond’s last hit song. It clocked in at No. 5 on the Hot 100.
‘Sweet Caroline’ is Added to the National Registry
In 2018, Neil Diamond’s ever-popular “Sweet Caroline” made it into the Library of Congress. The legendary tune was written impromptu. As the fabled story goes, Diamond was staying at a Memphis hotel in 1969. He was scheduled to record three potential singles at the American Sound Studio the following morning, but he was one short. “Sweet Caroline” came to him that very night.
Diamond says the song was like a “lucky gift” that arrived when he most needed it. “I had an empty space on my dance card, and ‘Sweet Caroline’ came up and saved me from a fate worse than death.”
Only Two Hit Number One
Neil Diamond’s discography is stacked with more hits than most musicians ever see. So, it might seem odd to know that out of all of Diamond’s greatest songs; just two soared to the very top of the charts. Those are “Cracklin’ Rose” and “Song Sung Blue.” “Cracklin’ Rose” made it to the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 spot in 1970, and “Song Sung Blue” received the honor in 1972.
We would assume “Sweet Caroline” hit the number one spot, but the stadium anthem missed the top three, placing fourth on the Billboard Top 100.
Diamond Reprises His Fan-Favorite Anthem
Neil Diamond is known for his dedicated fan following. He adores them, and they love him back. When people were faced with the hardships of quarantine, Diamond came to the rescue with a morale-boosting rendition of his classic song.
He called it “Sweet Caroline (Hands Washing Hands).” The playful recording is introduced with a sniff of the camera lens by his friendly golden and a heartwarming message by the entertainer. Perched next to the fireplace, Diamond says it’s a rough time, “But I love ya, and I think maybe if we sing together, well, we’ll just feel a little bit better, give it a try!”
An Immigration Song
Neil Diamond holds pride in this song both because “America” was embraced as a national anthem and for its deep personal meaning. At an August 2012 concert in Los Angeles, he shared the song’s significance. He recounted his grandmother’s journey to freedom from Jewish oppression: 100 years ago, a 12-year-old girl was put on a train in Kyiv, Russia. She traveled 1,200 miles to Rotterdam.
From Holland, she boarded a ship to (drumroll, please) America. The culmination of the drama-intense tale cues the music. On the verge of emotion, Diamond dedicates the song to his grandmother for inspiring all of his success.
Lifetime Achievement Award
During his career, Neil Diamond received 13 Grammy nominations. His first nomination came in 1971 for “I Am, I Said.” Although he never clinched a best pop song Grammy for his litany of hit songs, he did win the Best Original Score Grammy in 1973 for the "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull" film soundtrack.
Also, he received high recognition from the Recording Academy for his amazing contribution to musical recordings. Neil Diamond was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
He Was Born a Diamond
So often, musicians choose their stage names. Bob Dylan, as we all know, was a Zimmerman. Diamond didn’t have to change a thing. He was born Neil Leslie Diamond to parents Rose and Akeeba “Kieve” Diamond. They were Jewish descendants of Russian and Polish immigrants. His dad was a dry goods shopkeeper who also served in the military.
They moved away from Brooklyn just once, temporarily, to live in Wyoming due to his father’s service. Ironically, the performer put serious consideration into “Eyce Charry” and “Noah Kaminsky” as a stage name.
’The Last Waltz’
Speaking of Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond appeared alongside him and many other iconic performers of that generation in Martin Scorsese’s 1978 film "The Last Waltz." In the epic behind-the-scenes rock history documentary, Diamond looked a bit of a square next to the rockers of that era.
Neil Young slighted him with a sarcastic introduction, and Bob Dylan took a swipe, in short, calling him a bore. In the end, Rolling Stone had to give it to the Jewish Elvis, “truth be told, [Diamond] absolutely killed [it]” performing “Dry Your Eyes.”
‘Worth Every Penny’
When Marcia Murphey divorced Diamond in 1994 after 25 years of marriage, the settlement was $150 million. Until the Bezos split, it was the record-high spousal payout in all of divorce history. As his second wife, she received half of his estate, as per California law. Diamond took the bulk of the blame.
It seems fidelity factored in. He is quoted, memorably, stating his ex-wife deserved half of his fortune, quipping, she “was worth every penny.”
The Shirts: ‘A Big Distraction’
Donning brightly colored, elaborately sequined shirts started out as a way to lighten things up. Rock and Roll took itself too seriously, so he and his costume designer thought it would be fun to move far away from the brooding noir staple of rockers.
As the style had the effect of defining the musician, coming full circle to parody, he admits he sort of regrets the shirts. He blames himself for staying with the outrageous costuming too long. The more he was lambasted, the deeper he dug his heels in. He rebelled, “You don’t like it? I’ll take another dozen,”
In 2011, Neil Diamond was awarded the first-ever Billboard Icon Award. As he received it, the older musician made a point to joke that he didn’t know what an icon is, but he knows he always wanted to be one. Diamond is no stranger to the Billboard with his songs charting records for over 40 years.
He’s the only artist to post a top 20 hit in every decade since the Adult Contemporary chart debuted in 1961. He also made it into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984. This induction requires 20 years of successful songwriting for consideration.
A Solitary Man
Out of all of Diamond’s songs, “Solitary Man” is perhaps his most self-defining. It was his first success, and fans love it. Those themes surface later in “I Am, I Said,” a song about a deep emptiness that can’t be filled. Sitting down with Barbara Walters in 1985, Diamond talked about his loneliness.
He said fame is isolating; it’s lonely being on a pedestal. But he also spoke about having a loving wife and children, even while he felt the searing loneliness.
The Jazz Singer
"The Jazz Singer" flopped at the box office, as we know, but the album was his greatest success. Three songs made the Top 10 in 1981. It’s rare to have one song in the Top 10, yet all three, “Love on the Rocks,” “Hello Again,” and “America,” charted simultaneously.
“Love on the Rocks” did best, hitting No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. "The Jazz Singer," Diamond’s 15th studio album, is easily his biggest commercial endeavor. It sold over 5 million copies in the United States, ranking at No. 3 for 1981 pop albums.
Seriously, the King Covered ‘Sweet Caroline’
At a live performance in 1970, Elvis Presley sang “Sweet Caroline.” He not only credited the song, but he effectively introduced the up-and-coming singer to the world. Addressing a packed Las Vegas showroom, Elvis said he was going to sing a beautiful song by “a guy” named Neil Diamond.
Diamond happened to be in the audience. He was extremely flattered. This is how he explained it: It was like being introduced to the world by God. Unwittingly, he would soon earn the nickname the Jewish Elvis.
Even Ol’ Blue Eyes Covered It
Frank Sinatra performed the “Sweet Caroline” anthem to a swinging big band rhythm punctuated by its requisite horn blasts. He recorded it for his 1974 album, "Some Nice Things I’ve Missed."
Diamond is quoted saying he appreciated Sinatra’s cover the most because “He did it his way.”
Ripping Off Mozart (Accidentally)
One of Diamond’s songs turned out to be an exact rendition of Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21” unintentionally. Sitting down with "Forbes" magazine in November 2020, Diamond described his process of writing “Song Sung Blue.”
He put it down in music and then sort of set it aside. A year later, he prepared to record it and realized that he had not composed an original melody at all. It was Mozart’s.
More Proof Neil Diamond Adores His Fans
In December of 2020, Neil Diamond and Capitol Records gave fans a sweet treat. In an effort to bring people together after a tough year, they organized a global singalong. People from all over the world entered karaoke-style video submissions, belting out the “Sweet Caroline” anthem.
The winning entries were edited into a music video montage available to all on YouTube. Thousands of fans offered their best “Sweet Caroline” singalong.
Parkinson’s Didn’t Stop the Music
Neil Diamond released a new album on November 20, 2020. "Classic Diamonds" is a masterful album that features 14 of his greatest hits. And it’s special. The music was recorded at the celebrated London’s Abbey Road Studios. It kicks off with “Beautiful Noise,” a fitting introduction to a truly beautiful recording.
Music is performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under conductor William Ross. It concludes on a high note with a symphonic “Sweet Caroline.”
Fans Share the Love
It was a huge disappointment when Diamond was forced to call off his 50 Year Anniversary World Tour due to health issues. But his fans are infamous for their kindness. Instead of complaining, many donated the proceeds from the refunded tickets to charitable causes.
Diamond and his wife Katie sent out a Tweet thanking Australian and New Zealand fans for their love and support. Diamond said it made him smile, and Katie wrote that it filled her heart with joy.