Updated August 2, 2022 4:56 PM ET
Music industry pays tribute to record executive Mo Ostin, who died ‘peacefully in his sleep’ on Sunday evening, according to a statement from Warner Records. He was 95 years old.
Ostin has overseen the careers of a long list of big-name talents: The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Prince among them.
Born in New York to Russian immigrants, Ostin’s early years in the business were spent at jazz label Verve. In 1960, when Frank Sinatra started his own record label, Reprise, he hired Ostin as administrative vice president. Reprise was eventually purchased by Warner Records.
In 1970, Ostin became chairman of Warner Bros. Records. Under his leadership, the company was home to both mainstream pop stars like James Taylor and Fleetwood Mac and edgier artists like Frank Zappa and The Sex Pistols.
“Mo was probably the most music-loving and music-centric general manager of a record company during the rock and roll era,” says Peter Ames Carlin, the author of Sonic Boom: The Impossible Rise of Warner Bros. Records, from Hendrix to Fleetwood Mac, from Madonna to Prince. Ames says when Ostin took over Warner, he told his employees to change their approach. “He sat them down and he said, ‘Listen, we have to stop trying to make hit records. Let’s just make good records and turn them into hits. ”
After leaving Warner in 1993, Ostin continued to run DreamWorks SKG, along with his son Michael and former Warner executive Lenny Waronker.
Among the many tributes, Nancy, daughter of Frank Sinatra, herself a Reprise artist, writing that Ostin was “a real force in the music industry and a real sweetheart”.
Rapper and producer Q-Tip, who signed with DreamWorks SKG to work with Ostin and Waronker, writing“thank you for all the knowledge you imparted and contributions from jimi hendrix to prince.. neva Be another.”
The Twitter account of the late Tom Small messages, “Mo Ostin deeply inspired Tom as President of the Warner Brothers Music Division and was responsible for the creation of Wildflowers and the Traveling Wilburys, among many other landmark musical ventures. God bless Mo. One of the truly good. Our thoughts are with his family today.”
Ostin had his detractors. In 1978 Warner acquired Sire Records which brought in the Talking Heads label, The Pretenders and Madonna. Sire founder Seymour Stein had no kind words for Ostin in his memoir, calling him a “secret by design” and a “born politician”.
In 1994, Ostin reflected on the tension between giving artists creative freedom and what matters most in an interview with The Los Angeles Times, “You can’t measure the value of a quality act by its commercial punch. Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Ry Cooder – those guys [helped us] sign as many acts to this label as some of our biggest sellers because they had this incredible recognition and respect from their peers.”
Ostin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
“Mo lived an extraordinary life doing what he loved, and he will be deeply missed by the entire industry he helped create, as well as the countless artists and colleagues he inspired to be their best. shape,” the Warner Records statement read, “On behalf of everyone at Warner, we would like to thank Mo for all he has done and for his inspiring faith in our bright future.”
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