Dennis Greene, a founding member of the Fifties-leaning rock group Sha Na Na and later a Columbia Pictures executive and law professor, died Saturday at a Dayton, Ohio hospital. He was 66. Greene died from a brief illness prior to his death, his nephew told the Los Angeles Times.
Frederick “Dennis” Greene and his Sha Na Na bandmates began performing together in the late Sixties as an a cappella group at Columbia University, where they focused on the doo-wop classics of the previous decade. The band, whose name was inspired by the syllables sung in the Silhouettes’ 1958 single “Get a Job,” quickly rose to prominence when they were recruited to precede Jimi Hendrix’s legendary set at the Woodstock festival in 1969; Sha Na Na were also briefly featured in the Woodstock documentary.
The group rode the wave of Fifties nostalgia that spawned the sitcom Happy Days and the Broadway show Grease; when the latter became a hugely successful film in 1978, Greene and Sha Na Na performed Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Tears on My Pillow” under the guise of Johnny Casino and the Gamblers in the adaptation. Sha Na Na also starred in their own syndicated variety show in the Seventies, the New York Times reports.
However, after 15 years with Sha Na Na, Greene left the group in 1984 to pursue a master’s degree at Harvard and eventually a law degree at Yale. Greene would later become a Columbia Pictures executive and, ultimately, a law professor. Greene taught at Florida A&M, the University of Oregon and, from 2001 until his death, the University of Dayton.
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“Dr. Greene was a beloved and highly respected member of the campus community and our prayers go out to his family, friends, colleagues and students,” the university said in a statement.