Renay was born to a Jewish family in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She started singing at an early age and took voice lessons from Artie Singer, a voice teacher who also managed Danny and the Juniors (of "At the Hop" fame). Singer encouraged Renay to pursue a recording career. Renay attended Northeast High School (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).
Record producer/songwriter, Pete DeAngelis was a frequent customer at the Kushners' family jewelry store, and Renay's parents arranged for her to audition for him. DeAngelis, impressed with her talents, got Renay signed to the Atco Records label. Under the new stage name Diane Renay, she released her first single, "Little White Lies", in 1962, but it failed to chart nationally, as did the follow-up, "Tender", and Atco dropped her from the label.
However, Bob Crewe, who had written and produced material for Renay's second recording session, then signed her to a new recording contract whereby he would write and produce records for her. Under Crewe's guidance and signed to the 20th Century label, Renay, then 17 years old, released her biggest hit, "Navy Blue", in late 1963. The song told the story of a girl, lonely for her steady boyfriend away from home in the U.S. Navy and anxious to see him again. "Navy Blue", composed by Crewe with Bud Rehak and Eddie Rambeau, became a national smash, reaching No. 6 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in February 1964, and soaring to No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary singles chart. The song was followed by Renay's debut album, also titled Navy Blue.
Renay's only other single release to crack the national Billboard chart was "Kiss Me Sailor", reaching number 29 later in 1964. Subsequent singles, including "Growin' Up Too Fast", "Watch Out Sally", "It's In Your Hands", and "Happy Birthday Broken Heart", were hits in certain local markets such as Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Miami, but failed to break nationally. Renay moved to the Fontana label in 1969 and attempted a comeback with covers of "Yesterday" and "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me", but these also failed to chart. She did not record again until the early 1980s.
Renay remains active as a performer today and recently released Diane Renay Sings Some Things Old and Some Things New, a double-CD compilation album of her work (including many previously unreleased tracks) from the 1960s through the 1990s.
In the Stephen King collection of stories about the 1960s, Hearts In Atlantis, a reference to Diane Renay is found in the titular novella. In this story, her album, Diane Renay Sings Navy Blue, is owned by Nathan Hoppenstand, a student at the University of Maine in 1966. A few references to the song are found elsewhere in the text, as Peter Riley muses about the father of her girlfriend Carol Gerber, "After all, her father was a steady boy who said 'Ship Ahoy' and joined the Nay-yay-vee." Richard Serling, DJ at the Wigan Casino, a Northern Soul 'all-niter' in the 70's played Dianes version of "Can't Help Loving That Man" under the name Laura Greene, to prevent rival djs from playing it.
- Larkin, Colin. The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3rd edition, Macmillan, 1998.
- Ruppli, Michel; Novitsky, Ed. The Mercury Labels. A Discography, Vol. V., record and artist indexes, Greenwood Press, 1993.
- Whitburn, Joel. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 5th edition, Watson-Guptill Publications, 1992.