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Ellie Greenwich, late Cyndi Lauper collaborator and songwriting legend, remembered with Hofstra statue
Laura Alexis Greenwich Weiner stood patiently Tuesday morning on Hofstra University’s campus for a 12-foot statue depicting her sister to arrive.
It was worth the wait.
Greenwich Weiner’s sister, Ellie Greenwich, an award-winning songwriter and a 1962 Hofstra grad, died in August 2009 at the age of 68, but she left behind a legacy of music that includes hits such as “Be My Baby,” Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” and “Leader of the Pack.” She was also the vocal arranger and a backup singer on Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 anthem “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
Her memory had already lived on through a small garden that was set up two years ago on her alma mater’s Hempstead campus through a family donation. On Tuesday, the statue of Greenwich was placed inside.
The 1,000-pound, 12-foot stainless steel statue, which arrived on a crane truck a little after its scheduled time, is an abstract portrayal of Greenwich, complete with her signature bouffant hairdo. She’s seen with her arms stretched out above her head, holding up six notes, the first stanza of “I Can Hear Music.” Greenwich co-wrote the song, which was performed by “The Ronettes” and then later “The Beach Boys.”
“I truly do see my sister,” said Greenwich Weiner, 68, of Greenlawn, while looking at the statue. “ I see her face, and her arms outstretched really, to me, represents her nurturing and her creativity.”
The statue’s creator, Peter Homestead, 59, of upstate Hopewell Junction, drew inspiration from photos he found online of Greenwich, including one where she is raising her arms while delivering an acceptance speech.
“She just looked like she was saying ‘Thank you. This is life,’” said Homestead, who shares a birthday, Oct. 23, with Greenwich.
He has crafted 20 different sculptures for Hofstra’s campus, including the lions at the university’s main entrance and outside its playhouse. Greenwich’s statue took him close to six months to create, beginning with a small and “very rough” model made of copper. He hopes the finished product will inspire students as they enter the New Academics Building located next to “The Garden of Ellie.”
“When students walk in, it’s like Ellie is saying to them, ‘Make good art, write good music,’ ” he added.
Herman A. Berliner, Hofstra University’s provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, said he grew up listening to Greenwich’s music and described her memorial garden as an “oasis” for students.
“It’s a terrific place for our students just to sit, to talk with other students, to think, to think about their futures . . . in the context of a real Hofstra success story,” he said.
For as long as Greenwich Weiner can remember, her sister’s music has always had an impact on her. As a teenager growing up in Levittown, she and her friends would sit on the sofa in her house crying about their latest crushes while they listened to Greenwich play one of her original love songs on the piano.
“It was incredible,” she said. “I never realized what I was apart of. To me, she was just my sister.”
Greenwich Weiner, who also graduated from Hofstra in 1969, hopes the statue will motivate students who see it to listen to her sister’s music, connect with it and pursue their own passions.
“You can be very happy in your life if you can really do something with your passion, even if it’s not going to be your vocation,” she said.
Once the statue of her sister was placed inside the garden, Greenwich Weiner said, “I’m going to go up and give her a kiss and then, I’m going to sit down and reflect.”