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Levittown’s ‘Leader of the Pack’ songwriter, Ellie Greenwich, honored

Songwiter Ellie Greenwich, center, rehearses with the cast

Songwiter Ellie Greenwich, center, rehearses with the cast of the Broadway production of 'Leader of the Pack' on Jan. 23, 1985. Greenwich, a native of Levittown who died in 2009, was inducted into the Levittown Public Schools Hall of Fame on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Stabile

Levittown’s “Leader of the Pack” songwriter, Ellie Greenwich, was honored Saturday by being posthumously inducted into its Public Schools Hall of Fame.

The songwriter’s Top 40 hits from the 1960s — including “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Chapel of Love,” “Then He Kissed Me” and “Be My Baby” — are unmistakable for the power of their sincerity and emotional story lines, amped up by irresistible beats and haunting, sometimes melancholy melodies.

Many still register with teenagers born decades later.

“She was more talented than I ever understood,” said her younger sister, Laura Greenwich Weiner, of Greenlawn, after the inaugural ceremony at the Division Avenue High School.

Born in Brooklyn, Greenwich was 11 years old when she and her family moved to Levittown; a few years later, she formed a group, the Jivettes, with two friends.

“This was the beginning,” her sister said.

“She was a real pioneer, she was just a wonderful person, very proud of where she lived” at the corner of Springtime and Starlight lanes, Weiner said.

Greenwich, both a songwriter and a producer, collaborated with Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Lesley Gore, Bobby Darin, Phil Spector, Nona Hendryx and Cyndi Lauper.

Groups including The Ronettes, The Crystals and The Shangri-Las scored some of their most famous hits with her songs. Tina Turner, Elton John and U2 also recorded songs Greenwich wrote.

“She was very special, she never realized how important [her work] was and the impact she had,” her sister said.

Though Greenwich knew early on that she wanted to write songs, her mother insisted she go to college as a backup plan.

After graduating from Hofstra University, Greenwich got her start in 1962 while freelancing in Manhattan at the Brill Building offices of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote songs for Elvis Presley, among others, and whose work is celebrated in Broadway’s “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”

Greenwich and her then-husband, Jeff Barry, wrote and recorded “Hanky Panky,” which later became a hit for Tommy James and the Shondells.

Decades later in 1991, she and Barry were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. Greenwich died in 2009; she and Barry were welcomed into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame the following year.

Greenwich’s life was the basis of the 1985 Broadway revue “Leader of the Pack,” which won a Tony Award nomination for best musical and a Grammy nomination for best cast album. She also appeared in the show.

“I’m honored and I know she would be humbled,” said her sister, who was accompanied by her husband, Bob, who managed Greenwich’s career, her daughter, Jessica Swedalla of New Hyde Park, and grandson, Miles.

Four other Levittown natives also were inducted: Kevin McKinney, a volunteer firefighter who lost his life in the line of duty when he was just 25; Supreme Court Judge Thomas Feinman; Kate Murray, general counsel for governmental affairs at Nassau Community College; and Doug Robins, a physical education teacher and baseball coach in Levittown for 30 years.

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