John Hammond

10 who mined the talent and shaped the labels

Yale grad who played violin and viola, Hammond oversaw A&R at Columbia Records for nearly four decades. He was key in the desegregation of the music business, working with Benny Goodman and his interracial band plus organizing the Spirituals to Swing concert that brought much black music to a white audience at Carnegie Hall. A swing aficionado, he switched to working in folk and blues as bebop took over, inking Columbia’s biggest stars in the field. Soon after “Spirituals to Swing,” Hammond invested in Cafe Society, the first integrated night club, but he spent most of the ’40s in Europe concentrating on classical music. Accustomed to working with musicians on the cusp of social change, he found a home within the folk community led by Pete Seeger. Although he came from the moneyed side of New York society, Hammond was committed to social and political change. His drive to make the music biz more integrated and politically responsible resonates even today, a full 30 years after he retired.

Key signings: Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen

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