Mo Ostin, legendary Warner Bros. Records Chief, Dies at 95 – Billboard

I bought itthe legendary label manager who guided Warner Brothers Records for more than 30 years through a storied time of both artistic and commercial success died in his sleep on July 31, at the age of 95.

Ostin, who signed and/or worked with such acts at The Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, REM, Randy Newman and many more, was “one of the greatest record men of all time, and a premier architect of modern music business,” said Tom Corsonco-chairman and COO, Warner Records, and Aaron Bay-Schuckco-chairman and CEO, Warner Records, in a joint statement.

“For Mo, it has always been first and foremost to help artists realize their vision,” their statement continues. “One of the pivotal figures in the evolution of Warner Music Group, in the 1960s, Warner/Reprise Records led Warner/Reprise Records into a golden age of revolutionary, culture-shifting artistry. Over the next three decades with the label, he remained a tireless champion of creative freedom, both for the talent he nurtured and for the people who worked for him. Mo lived an extraordinary life doing what he loved, and he will be deeply missed by the entire industry he helped create, and by the countless artists and colleagues he inspired to be their best selves. On behalf of everyone at Warner, we would like to thank Mo for all he has done and for his inspiring belief in our bright future. Our condolences go out to his family at this difficult time.”

Ostin, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 and received a Trustees Award from the Recording Academy in 2017, was born Morris Meyer Ostrofsky in New York and moved to Los Angeles, where he attended Fairfax High School and UCLA. went. After starting his career with Verve Records, Ostin was recruited by Frank Sinatra in 1960 to run his Reprise Records. Three years later, Warner Bros. Records Reprise and Ostin quickly captured the pop zeitgeist and signed The Kinks. Shortly after, he brought Hendrix, Mitchell and Neil Young to the label.

Ostin became president of Warner Bros. Records in 1970, presided over the Warner and Reprise imprints until he retired as chairman/CEO in 1994. With an artist-first mindset, the labels became home to an amazing array of artists throughout his tenure, including Van Halen, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, the B-52s, Paul Simon, ZZ Top, George Benson, Don Henley, Tom Petty, Green Day, Van Dyke Parks, Dire Straits, Chaka Khan, and, famously, Prince, who signed to the label in 1977.

Though Prince left the label in 1996, after accusing it of “slavery,” only to return in 2014, Ostin considered Prince a genius and compared him to Sinatra in a 2016 interview with Billboard after Prince’s death. He remembered the first time he heard Prince and how the attitude of Warner Bros. towards artists – and a clever offer – led Prince to choose the label: “Our Head of Promotion [at the time], Russ Thyret, got a demo from our Minnesota PhD student, Owen Husney – he later became Prince’s manager. We were absolutely blown away and wanted to sign him right away. There was a lot of competition because other people knew about him – A&M and Columbia tried to sign him, and it got very competitive. But A&M wanted his publication and he didn’t give up, so he passed them on. Columbia was only going to give him a two LP deal, so we decided to give him a three LP deal because we believe in him so strongly. And also, because we valued artists, he signed with us.”

Many artists stayed close to Ostin for decades even after he left Warner Brothers, including Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, who paid tribute on Instagram: “Mo Ostin was a true gentleman. He was honest, kind and loved. I am so thankful that he was a part of my life; his stories, his humor, his love for his job, he is the best person i have ever met in the music business. He made me feel valued, understood and welcomed when I was a confused child with a lot to do.”

Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar added a comment on Flea’s Instagram: “Signed some of the greatest artists of all time, nothing but love and respect for Mo Austin…wonderful post Flea.”

Ostin led Warner Bros. from a multi-storey brown timber building nicknamed the Ski Lodge, in Burbank. He made it a haven for creativity, with artists dropping by regularly to visit and play new music. “Rickie Lee Jones came in with a guitar and played about two and a half songs, that was all it took to realize she was amazing,” Lenny WaronkerWarner Brothers VP of A&R, recalled in a 2019 Billboard oral history on the building before Warner Bros. moved to downtown Los Angeles. “I think it was just” Ted Templeman and myself. That was a no brainer. Van Dyke Parks came into my office for his first record, when he was working with Brian Wilson. He had his stuff, and to me it was great that he was sitting at the piano… although that might have been in the old building. Once, when? Russ Titelman and I released Rickie Lee Jones’ first record [in 1979], we met her in Russ’s office, which was next door to mine, and she had a new idea for an arrangement for “Chuck E.’s in Love,” which was basically to slow it down. It gave it a real attitude.”

After Jac Holzman‘s Elektra Records became part of the company Warner Bros.-Seven Arts (after Warner Brothers Records and Atlantic Records), Ostin, Holzman and Atlantic founders Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun helped form WEA, the global distribution system that handled their releases and brought distribution in-house.

Ostin’s Contemporary, Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment Clive Davis, remembers him as a fierce competitor, but a better friend. “Mo Ostin was one of a kind. And the company he chaired was totally unique in its very special management and, of course, the depth of the artistry that influenced contemporary music and culture so deeply and so historically,” he said in a statement. “Yes, he and I competed with each other for many years, but my friendship with him extended to our respective families and I will always cherish our very close relationship.”

Executives a generation after Ostin remember him as an influential force. YouTube/Google global head of music Lyor Cohenwho was chairman of the Warner Music Group from 2004-2012, said: Billboard“The good news is that he has led an incredible life. He was a wonderful husband, father and led a healthy musical life. My heart goes out to Michael and the family. Let’s celebrate his life by listening to the many artists he supported. We should all be as lucky as Mo!!”

“Mo was a great mentor,” said Universal Music Group Chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge in a statement. “He lived by a set of values ​​that taught me so much about business, and how to be a leader, and about life. My respect for him as a manager and as a family man was total. His ‘nose’ for talent was legendary, but he was also an incredible connector of people; something that is sorely missed in the business – and the world today. My deepest condolences to Michael and the entire family.”

“There will only be one Mo Ostin and we will all stand on his shoulders and take advantage of his incredible achievements,” Hipgnosis co-founder of Merck Mercuriades wrote on Instagram. “It’s very hard not to pick his Warner Records as the greatest label of all time. From @sinatra to @neilyoungarchives an incredible man who has influenced the careers of so many legends. None of us can touch the hem of his garment today. Love to Michael and the Ostin family.”

Max Lousada, CEO of Warner Recorded Music added: “In an era where creative entrepreneurs are revered, we celebrate Mo Ostin as a pioneer who wrote the rulebook for others to follow. Warner Music Group and Warner Records would not exist without his passion, vision and intelligence. Not only did he help build one of the world’s largest music companies, but he also inspired a culture driven by courage and ingenuity. Mo saw artists for who they really were and gave them the space and support to fully realize their originality. Our condolences to [Mo’s son] Michael and the entire Ostin family. Mo was a legend and he will be sorely missed.”

After his retirement from Warner Bros. Ostin kept busy, including co-founder and leader of the music division of DreamWorks SKG from 1996-2004. He later served as an advisor and board member for the music schools of his alma mater, UCLA, as well as USC. In 2011, he donated $10 million to UCLA for a new facility called the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center.

Ostin’s wife, Evelyn, and two of his sons, Randy and Kenny, preceded him in death. He is survived by his son, Michael.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute to Ostin’s quiet style comes from Stan Cornyn, former Warner Brothers director, who praised Ostin during his introduction to Rock Hall for trusting the people he’d hired to work their magic under him: Mo was brilliant. So brilliant, he never told us how to do our job.”

Assistance with this story by Dan Rys.

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