Robert S. Crewe, 83: Legendary singer, songwriter, transformed pop music

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SCARBOROUGH — Robert “Bob” S. Crewe, known for writing some of the biggest hit songs from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, died peacefully Sept. 11 at a Scarborough nursing facility, with his brother, Dan Crewe, by his side.

Crewe was the creator, often with a collaborator, of top hits including “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” “Rag Doll,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Lady Marmalade” and “My Eyes Adored You.” He was also the legendary record producer behind such acts as The Four Seasons, Frankie Valli, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, Lesley Gore and Bobby Darin.

Nearly every song written by Crewe and his co-writers charted in Billboard Magazine’s “Top 20” hit list. In 1992, Crewe was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Born Nov. 12, 1930, in Newark, New Jersey, Crewe grew up in nearby Belleville and later moved to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. He planned to become an architect, but after a year left Parsons to embark on a musical career.

He began singing on record demos and penning songs with his first writing partner, Frank C. Slay. The two wrote hits such as “Silhouettes,” recorded by The Rays, and “Tallahassee Lassie,” popularized by Freddie Cannon.

In 1961, Warwick Records showcased Crewe’s voice on “The Whiffenpoof Song,” “Water Boy” and “Voglio Cantare.” He soon became a teen idol, appearing on the cover of 16 Magazine and in TV talent shows.

Later, Crewe discovered a young vocal group from New Jersey, and hired them to sing backup. With the addition of a young songwriter to the group, Bob Gaudio, Crewe renamed the group The Four Seasons.

The group, said to be the most popular band before the heyday of The Beatles, was immortalized in the 2005 Broadway musical and recent Hollywood movie, “Jersey Boys.” Crewe also wrote the lyrics for the show.

Crewe developed the concept of independent record production, founding his own label, DynoVoice Records. The Crewe Group, a conglomerate of several music companies that included three publishing houses, was formed and administered by his brother, Dan.

In addition to his musical creations, Crewe was known for his love of painting and sculpture. His work was displayed at several Los Angeles art galleries during the 1980s.

In 2011, Bob and Dan Crewe established the Bob Crewe Foundation, whose mission is to support scholarship in the fields of art and music. The foundation also works to bring attention to LGBTQ issues.

Earlier this year, the foundation granted the Maine College of Art $3 million to establish the Bob Crewe Program for Art and Music, believed to be the first music program at an art college.

Crewe is survived by his brother, Dan, of Cumberland; niece, Reid Bullens Crewe, of Portland; niece, Cidny Bullens, of Portland; niece, Therese Crewe, of Newton, New Jersey; nephew, Thomas C. Crewe, of Hewitt, New Jersey; and many close friends and colleagues.

Memorial donations can be made in Crewe’s name to the Maine College of Art Scholarship Fund, the University of Southern Maine School of Music Scholarship Fund, or The Frannie Peabody Center, in Portland.

Arrangements are by A.T. Hutchins Funeral Home, in Portland.

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