Gary James' Interview With
Diane Renay

She was born Renee Diane Kushner in the Rock 'n' Roll city of South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While she only had one hit, what a hit it was! The song hit the Top Ten Billboard charts with a bullet during the week of February 19th, 1964. Her song was "Navy Blue" and the singer's name was Diane Renay.

Diane was still in high school when the song exploded onto the charts. Diane Renay talked about a part of Rock 'n' Roll history that we'll probably never see again.

Q - Diane, what is there about South Philly (South Philadelphia) that accounts for all of the 50s, 60s singers born there?

A - Good question. (laughs)

Q - That's why I asked it.

A - I think all of the rock 'n' roll music, the heartbeat of it all, started on the East coast, mainly New York, Philadelphia, that whole area. Why so many people came out of Philadelphia, recording artists, especially the area I was born in, South Philadelphia, I don't know. It just happened. Coincidence maybe? I have no idea. The record companies used to be based solely in New York City way back then. Then eventually they spread out to California and of course the Country music was always going on in Nashville. That really had nothing to do with rock 'n' roll.

Q - I take it that you always wanted to be a singer?

A - Oh, yeah. From the time I could talk I was singing. I always wanted to be an entertainer...sing, dance, the whole nine yards. It was my dream.

Q - A dream you realized! Not too many people get that opportunity.

A - Here's a funny story: I'll make it short. When my mother was pregnant with me, she had never gone to a gypsy before 'cause she really didn't believe in it, but just for the hell of it she went to a gypsy. And the gypsy said to her, you're gonna have a daughter and your daughter one day is going to be a star. (laughs)

Q - I read that about you on the Internet. That is rather strange.

A - Yeah, but that's what really happened. My mother did go and that's what the gypsy told her. So who knows? (laughs)

Q - You were taking singing lessons from Artie Singer, who was also managing Danny and The Juniors.

A - I think he wrote "At The Hop" too.

Q - How did Mr. Singer have enough time to do all of this?

A - I don't know, but I know he coached Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian. He was like the connoisseur of who had the talent in Philadelphia to go into a professional career. He was the best singing teacher and coach in Philadelphia, so I started going to him when I was twelve. He usually didn't take people that young because your voice really doesn't start developing until you're about fourteen. But, you had to audition for him. He didn't just take everyone. If he didn't feel you had talent, he wouldn't take you on as a student. So, I auditioned for him and he took me on as a student. After working with him for a while he said to me one day "when you get older, you should really consider making a record." And that's all I had to hear. I drove my parents crazy. I want to cut a record. But that didn't happen for quite a few years. I was too young.

Q - And even after Artie Singer told you you should consider pursuing a professional career, your father had to ask his customer (Diane Renay's father owned a jewelry store) producer Pete De Angelis if he thought you had singing or vocal talent.

A - Well, his customer was a first cousin of Pete De Angelis who was a very big record producer at the time. I think he produced Franki Avalon when he did "Venus". He produced Al Martino. A lot of real famous people. My dad asked his customer, who was a good friend, could you please set up an appointment so I can take Diane over to see your cousin Pete De Angelis. I want him to hear her sing and get his opinion. And that's exactly what we did. We went over on Sunday afternoon. Pete sat down at his piano and said "Alright, what do you want to sing? A standard or two?" I picked out a couple of songs and I sang. He just turned to my parents and said "She's really got it. I can get her a record deal." And that's what happened.

Q - When he got you a record deal, did he get a percentage? What was in it for him?

A - No. What was in it for him was he was hired to produce the first session for me for Atlantic Records. They put me on Atco, which was a subsidiary of Atlantic. He got to produce my first session which the record company paid him (to do). So, after he produced my first session, for this. I have a contract for two recording sessions per year before they could either pick up or not pick up my option. So, after the first session, which produced the song "Little White Lies", the second session they hired Bob Crewe, who at that time was hitting it big with The Four Seasons with "Sherry" and "Walk Like A Man". Bob Crewe wrote a song called "Tender" for me. I think he wrote it with Sid Bass who wrote Gale Garnett's "We'll Sing In The Sunshine". The record was like number one in spotty areas of the country, but it wasn't enough for Atco to want to pick up my option. So, they let me go. Bob said to my dad, "Listen, I have my own group of artists that I'm recording and I'd like to take Diane under my wing and produce her because I thing she has a lot of talent. We just need to find the right song." After that it was "Navy Blue". (laughs)

Q - You were still in high school when "Navy Blue" became a hit weren't you?

A - Yeah.

Q - How did your classmates react to that?

A - Oh, nobody talked to me. Actually I had records playing on the radio before "Navy Blue". "Little White Lies" was being played in Philadelphia. The second release, "Tender" was being played all over. The kids treated me like I was an alien from another planet. All of a sudden people that used to talk to me and be friendly toward me, stopped talking to me. It was more like shunned. When I would walk down the hallway, everybody would gather to one side to the other in groups, looking at me, whispering between themselves. I knew they were talking about me. It was not a pleasant experience. I think the happiest day of my life at that time was to get out of high school when I graduated.

Q - What do you think your classmates were saying about you?

A - Well, I don't know. They were just saying "She sings. She's got a record on the radio." The thing is, I was performing on the weekends. I was having to get on a plane on a Friday and work on the weekends. I wouldn't get home until late Sunday night or sometimes Monday. I was going to school Tuesday through Thursday. It was really rough. My counselor called me down and said "What's this I hear? You have records on the radio and you're only in school three days a week." I said "yeah, that's what's going on." He said "Well, I wish you lots of luck. I can't say anything to you. You go to school to learn to do something to make a living and have some kind of future. You're already doing it. Just try your best to keep your grades up." It was a struggle, but I graduated. (laughs)

Q - Did you ever go on beyond high school?

A - No. I was totally immersed in my singing career, traveling and performing. It was a twenty-four hour, seven day a week career. There was no time for anything else. Very time consuming.

Q - Who did you tour with? Did you do those Dick Clark Tours?

A - Well, I performed for Dick Clark three days; he had a show on Steel Pier in Atlantic City for three days. I shared a dressing room with Diana Ross and The Supremes. That was the only dressing room they had for the women. The other people on the show were all guys. There was Johnny Tillotson, Jan and Dean. I worked for a whole week with Bobby Rydell at The World's Fair in New York. Peter and Gordon were also on that show. Then I did a Teen Fair for several days. That was the first appearance of The Rolling Stones in the United States. The people who were running the show asked me if I would mind going by limousine to the airport to greet The Rolling Stones when they came off the plane and escort them back to the show. I said, well, OK. They more or less had a red carpet that came off the plane. There were girls screaming all over the place behind the gates, because they were advertising on the radio. Another English group coming! The Rolling Stones! And, I worked with them for three days on the show.

Q - Where did they land?

A - I don't know where they first came in, but the first shows they did were at the Teen Fair in Texas, with me. That's where they made their first U.S. appearance I believe. They were quite interesting.

Q - Where was this Teen Fair held in Texas?

A - Either Dallas or San Antonio. I was at the Teen Fair for three days with Bobby Vee and then they brought The Rolling Stones in.

Q - Who was your favorite Rolling Stone?

A - None of them. I'm going to be very frank and honest with you: they were totally opposite of The Beatles. The Beatles were dressed well. They were groomed. They looked clean. These guys, The Rolling Stones, they looked like they rolled out of bed, didn't take a shower, didn't bother to comb their hair, didn't bother to put on any kind of nice clothes in particular. They just walked on the stage when they came in and that's the way they were. (laughs) Totally opposite of The Beatles.

Q - I take it you liked The Beatles.

A - Yeah, I guess so. I didn't know anything about The Stones. To me, they were just another English group, 'cause I had worked with quite a few English groups during that time with the big wave of bringing English artists over to the United States. To me, they (the Rolling Stones) were just another English group. I didn't consider them in the caliber of The Beatles.

Q - After "Navy Blue" was a hit, you followed it up with what?

A - Yeah, well, I cut an album and one of the songs on the album was called "Kiss Me Sailor". So, they pulled it and released it as a follow up single to "Navy Blue". I refer to it as "Navy Blue Chapter Two". (laughs) It hit the charts. It didn't do as well as "Navy Blue". I think it went up to number 20 on Billboard*, but a lot of people loved it. A lot of people have told me they liked "Kiss Me Sailor" better than "Navy Blue" and so do I and so does the writer who wrote "Navy Blue" and "Kiss Me Sailor", but Eddie Rambeau said he liked "Kiss Me Sailor" better than "Navy Blue". It was a better song. But of course, "Navy Blue" came out first. That's the way it was.

Q - What happened after "Kiss Me Sailor"?

A - I had quite a few other records when I was still under contract to Bob Crewe.

Q - They charted didn't they?

A - Oh, yeah. They all charted. I never had a record as big as "Navy Blue". "Navy Blue" was a hit all over the world. A very big hit. But my records did chart and they did sell other records all over the world as well.

Q - What do you do these days?

A - I got out of the business a long time ago. I decided when I was in my twenties already. I started singing and cutting records when I was sixteen. I really started very young. So, by the time I was twenty-three, I think I was burned out. I couldn't stand traveling. I could stand living out of a suitcase. I hated flying. Flying to me was a nightmare. So, I met somebody and I got married. Then by 1971, I had a daughter Heather. I stayed home. I decided to be a stay at home mom and raise my own child. I did not like the idea of having somebody else raise her, a nanny or put her in a day care center. I just couldn't do it. So, I stayed home and took care of Heather and I did a good job. By the time of two, she was reading out of menus in restaurants. I taught her well. (laughs)

Q - Has she followed in her mother's footsteps?

A - Heather is a mortgage broker. She lives in Florida. Her singing voice sounds just like me when I was young. It's just amazing. She doesn't look like me. She looks exactly like her dad. We don't even look like we're related, but we're very close.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

*"Kiss Me Sailor" climbed to #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964