Record Company Executive Dead at 76
Jul. 11, 1987
NEW YORK (AP) _ John Hammond, the record company executive and talent scout who discovered such musical stars as Billie Holiday, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, died Friday in his Manhattan apartment. He was 76.
Hammond, who had been ill for some time, was listening to a Holiday recording when he died about noon, said Robert Altshuler, a CBS spokesman and longtime friend of Hammond.
Hammond, whose music-business career began in the early 1930s, spent most of his working life at Columbia Records, a division of CBS. He retired in the late '70s, but continued to work for CBS as a consultant until recently, Altshuler said.
Hammond was born in New York to an upper-class family. His mother was a Vanderbilt and his father a successful lawyer.
''Music, especially music on records, entered my life early to become the catalyst for all that was to happen to me,'' he wrote in his autobiography, ''John Hammond on Record.''
Called ''the world's greatest talent scout'' by trumpeter Buck Clayton, Hammond produced records for the great blues singer Bessie Smith in the 1930s and recorded the first jazz concert in Carnegie Hall by Benny Goodman.
In 1933, a banner year for Hammond, he found Miss Smith singing in a dive in Philadelphia and took her to New York to record, among her other classics, ''Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer.''
It was also in 1933 that he spotted Miss Holiday, then a 17-year-old singing in Harlem.
Also in the '30s he discovered and promoted such musicians as Teddy Wilson and singer Helen Humes. Boogie-woogie pianist Meade Lux Lewis was discovered working in a Chicago car wash.
Two of his greatest contributions were the big bands of Count Basie and Goodman. He found Basie after hearing his band on a car radio tuned to a Kansas City radio station one night in the mid-'30s.
He not only discovered Goodman, but recorded him first and furnished him with many of his great sidemen. Hammond united Goodman with Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson in an integrated jazz group, a trio that became a quartet when Hammond took Goodman to hear Lionel Hampton.
Goodman also married Hammond's sister.
Hammond was known as an ''ardent fighter'' for equal rights for black musicians and opened the doors of many Manhattan nightclubs to black performers, Altshuler said.
''He fought the civil-rights battles going back into the '30s. He fought very hard in the music world to battle discrimination,'' Altshuler said, adding that Hammond had been a board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
''Everything I was trying to do in the music business was connected to my attempt to rectify the wrongs that had been done to American jazz and black people,'' Hammond once said.
Hammond's career in music began in 1932 with the discovery of a piano player named Garland Wilson, Altshuler said.
His affilation with CBS started as an independent record producer, and in the late '30s he joined the company. He left Columbia during the 1940s to work with Mercury Records and a small jazz label, but later returned to CBS, Altshuler said.
During the years he discovered and brought Columbia such diverse recording talents as Pete Seeger, Aretha Franklin and George Benson.
''I don't know anyone who better had the ability to recognize a talent at an early stage,'' Altshuler said. ''Through his enthusiasm he was able to bring success to that artist.''
He is survived by two sons, Jason Hammond, and the blues performer John Paul Hammond.