Early life and education
Diamond was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family descended from Russian and Polish immigrants. His parents were Rose (née Rapoport) and Akeeba "Kieve" Diamond, a dry-goods merchant. He grew up in several homes in Brooklyn, having also spent four years in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where his father was stationed in the army. In Brooklyn he attended Erasmus Hall High School and was a member of the Freshman Chorus and Choral Club, along with classmate Barbra Streisand;:155 Diamond recalled they were not close friends at the time: "We were two poor kids in Brooklyn. We hung out in the front of Erasmus High and smoked cigarettes." After his family moved, he then attended Abraham Lincoln High School, and was a member of the fencing team. Also on the team was his best friend, future Olympic fencer Herb Cohen.
For his 16th birthday, he received his first guitar. When he was 16 and still in high school, Diamond spent a number of weeks at Surprise Lake Camp,:21 a camp for Jewish children in upstate New York, when folk singer Pete Seeger performed a small concert. Seeing the widely recognized singer perform, and watching other children singing songs for Seeger that they wrote themselves, had an immediate effect on Diamond, who then became aware of the possibility of writing his own songs. "And the next thing, I got a guitar when we got back to Brooklyn, started to take lessons and almost immediately began to write songs," he said. He added that his attraction to songwriting was the "first real interest" he had growing up, besides helping him release his youthful "frustrations".
Diamond also used his newly developing skill to write poetry. By writing poems for girls he was attracted to in school, he soon learned it often won their hearts. His male classmates took note and began asking him to write poems for them which they would sing and use with equal success.:10 He spent the summer following his graduation as a waiter in the Catskills resort area. There he first met Jaye Posner, who would years later become his wife.:26
Diamond next attended New York University as a pre-med major on a fencing scholarship, again on the fencing team with Herb Cohen.[a] He was a member of the 1960 NCAA men's championship fencing team. Often bored in class, he found writing song lyrics more to his liking. He began cutting classes and taking the train up to Tin Pan Alley, where he tried to get some of his songs heard by local music publishers. In his senior year, when he was just 10 units short of graduation, Sunbeam Music Publishing offered him a 16-week job writing songs for $50 a week (equivalent to about US$405 per week, in 2017 dollars), and he dropped out of college to accept it.[b]