Simon Waronker

Founder of Liberty Records

This article was updated on June 15, 2005.

Simon Waronker, founder of independent pop music label Liberty Records, died June 7 of natural causes in Beverly Hills. He was 90.

Waronker’s label signed artists from Eddie Cochran to Alvin & the Chipmunks during the 1950s and 1960s.

Liberty scored major hits with the novelty recordings of the chipmunk trio, whose distinctive, high-pitched sound was created by speeding up the playback. “The Chipmunk Song,” released in 1958, sold more than 4 million copies in seven weeks and became a No. 1 hit single in the U.S.

The Chipmunks – Alvin, Simon and Theodore – were named after Liberty president Alvin Bennett, Waronker and chief engineer Theodore Keep.

Other Liberty acts included Julie London, Jan & Dean and Martin Denny.

The Los Angeles-born Waronker trained as a classical violinist in Europe as a teenager in the early 1930s. After returning to Los Angeles, he played violin with the 20th Century Fox Orchestra and was orchestra contractor at the studio, organizing musicians for recording sessions, until he founded Liberty in 1955.

Using his furniture as collateral, Waronker borrowed $2,000 and used half of the loan to arrange to have Capitol Records’ pressing plant manufacture his initial releases. In 1963, Waronker sold Liberty Records to Avnet, an electronics corporation, for $12 million.

He is survived by his son, Lenny, former prexy of Warner Bros. Records; a daughter; a sister; eight grandchildren, including musician Anna Waronker; and two great-grandchildren.

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