Chairman Emeritus of Warner Bros. Records
Throughout the course of an extraordinary career, Mo Ostin became well known not only as a hugely successful record executive but also as a genuine friend and supporter of recording artists, irrespective of their perceived commercial viability. His unique disposition made him someone trusted by recording artists, both established and emerging, insofar as he encouraged their creativity and, as one pundit put it, “put credence into risk-taking.” In light of his numerous achievements and singular role in the industry, he is receiving a GRAMMY as a 2017 recipient of The Recording Academy Trustees Award.
Ostin’s journey in the music business began in the mid-1950s at Clef Records, soon to be renamed Verve, an enterprise of legendary producer/impresario Norman Granz. The label’s artist roster included an unparalleled line up of jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, the Oscar Peterson Trio, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz and Louis Armstrong. The label was also the home of a roster of contemporary comedy giants including Mort Sahl, Shelly Berman and Jonathan Winters.
While with Verve, Ostin was also involved with Jazz At The Philharmonic, a worldwide concert promotion operation that provided a live performance platform for the label’s touring stars. JATP provided the template on which today’s leading international concert promotion enterprises are based.
Frank Sinatra tried and failed to buy Verve, which was eventually sold to MGM Records. He was, however, so impressed by the company’s artists and management style that he formed his own Reprise Records in 1960 and hired Ostin to head it. Its artist roster included Sinatra, Count Basie, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Trini Lopez, Keely Smith as well as Kenny Rogers and The First Edition.
In 1963 Reprise joined forces with Warner Bros. affording Ostin an opportunity to work with some of the most notable artists of the latter half of the 20th Century, including the Kinks, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Prince, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Sex Pistols, Red Hot Chili Peppers and hundreds more. He spent 32 years at Warner/Reprise, 25 as chief executive officer where, at one time or another, the label’s affiliates included Chris Blackwell’s Island, Phil Walden’s Capricorn, Terry Ellis and Chris Wright’s Chrysalis, Irving Azoff’s Giant, Quincy Jones’s Qwest, Seymour Stein’s Sire, Tom Silverman’s Tommy Boy and David Geffen’s eponymously named label. The operation was the recording home of Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac, Peter, Paul & Mary, Van Morrison, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Alice Cooper, the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, George Harrison, The Who, Madonna, Talking Heads, U2, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Dire Straits, Steely Dan, ZZ Top, Rod Stewart, George Benson, Van Halen, Tom Petty, Quincy Jones, REM, Green Day, Gordon Lightfoot, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, Ry Cooder, Seals & Croft as well as comedians ranging from Richard Pryor and Steve Martin to Adam Sandler and Don Rickles. While rock and pop were staples of the Warner/Reprise combination, a thriving country music division, powered by hit makers including Faith Hill, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris, underscored its eclecticism.
The company, under Ostin catalyzed the production of music-themed films including Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, The Last Waltz from the Band and Purple Rain, starring Prince. The company’s in-house A&R staff producers including Lenny Waronker, Ted Templeman, Russ Titelman, Tommy LiPuma, Michael Ostin, Jimmy Bowen, Andrew Wickham, Jim Ed Norman among others, was considered the most accomplished line-up of producers to have been associated with a label.
Ostin was also instrumental in the acquisition of the independent Elektra label by Warner Communications as well as the subsequent formation of WEA Corporation and WEA International. Recognized as an industry titan, he served as chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America for a two-year term.
After departing Warner Bros. in 1994 he went on to found the music division of the entertainment conglomerate DreamWorks SKG. There, he and his staff amassed a roster of artists that included Nelly Furtado, Papa Roach, Rufus Wainwright, Elliott Smith, The All-American Rejects, The Isley Brothers, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Eat World, Toby Keith, Lifehouse as well as Chris Rock and Jimmy Fallon.
In 2003, Ostin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Neil Young, Paul Simon and Lorne Michaels. Three years later he received The Recording Academy President’s Merit Award at the 2006 GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons®.
A graduate of UCLA, Ostin and his late wife Evelyn played a critical role in establishing the university’s Evelyn & Mo Ostin Music Center, and the Mo Ostin Basketball Center. He is also a major supporter of The Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Across town, he serves on the Board of Counselors for USC’s Thornton School of Music.
Mo Ostin is currently Chairman Emeritus of Warner Bros. Records and a consultant to the company.