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Music bio has Warners’ ear

Hammond biopic tops WB, Weintraub chart

Warner Bros. Pictures and Jerry Weintraub Prods. are planning a biopic of the man who gave recording contracts to Billie Holliday, Benny Goodman, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen — legendary Columbia Records A&R exec John Hammond.

Studio has bought film rights to Dunstan Prial’s biography “The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of American Music,” published in June by Farrar Straus Giroux.

Weintraub, whose production company is based on the Warners lot, said he saw a review of Prial’s tome and knew he had to go after the film rights. He told Daily Variety he knew Hammond when he did a stint at Columbia Records.

“He was a purist and he knew music from beginning to end,” Weintraub told Daily Variety.

The great-grandson of William Henry Vanderbilt, Hammond was born in Gotham in 1910. Although his mother pushed him in the direction of classical music, Hammond was drawn to jazz. After dropping out of college, he began his career as a scout and producer, often using his own funds. He helped Benny Goodman organize his first band and launched Count Basie’s orchestra to national prominence.

In his career, Hammond discovered or sponsored artists including Aretha Franklin and Stevie Ray Vaughn, along with Springsteen and Dylan.

Hammond, who died in 1987, also was an early advocate of civil rights, becoming one of the first white people to sit on the board of the NAACP. He believed music was a way to transcend racial barriers and promote integration.

While most people living on exclusive Fifth Avenue in New York looked southward for culture, Weintraub said, Hammond headed straight for Harlem.

The source material focused primarily on Hammond’s rock and roll career. Weintraub said he is undecided which direction he will take with the biopic, but he’s interested in Hammond’s earlier years and civil rights involvement.

Prial’s book was repped by Endeavor on behalf of publishing agent Martha Kaplan Agency. Oliver Obst at Weintraub Prods. helped bring in the project.

Weintraub is wrapping production on “Ocean’s Thirteen” and is prepping “Nancy Drew,” both for Warners.

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