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Ken Ehrlich: The Producer the Stars Trust

Grammy producer's rapport with artists inspires leaps of faith

At the 2014 Grammys, Ken Ehrlich reserved a featured spot for John Legend to sing something that wasn’t yet a hit: “All of Me.”

Ehrlich chose the song “just because he believed in it,” says Legend. Sales of the song jumped 174% in the two weeks following this January performance; it hit No. 1 on Billboard Pop charts in May.

That instinct for what will work has earned Ehrlich a rare level of trust from the music stars he works with almost daily. And because of that trust, they’re willing to take creative risks they might balk at with another producer.

“Part of that is continuity,” says Legend. “He’s been doing the Grammys for so long, he’s developed a level of trust with the artists. He’s become synonymous with the show, as far as I’m concerned, so people trust him because of his track record.”

Ehrlich doesn’t just make suggestions. Katy Perry remembers her first meeting with Ehrlich, prior to the 2009 Grammys. “He asked if I had any ideas about how I wanted to perform ‘I Kissed a Girl,’” says Katy Perry. “I told him I wanted to be lowered down from the ceiling of the venue to the stage on a giant gold banana, and then I’d jump off to sing and dance. Ken just smiled and said, ‘We can do that!’

“Because Ken really is a creative artist himself, he’s completely in his element working with artists,” says Perry. “He loves to introduce them to each other, pair them up in unusual combinations, and encourage them to just be their essential selves.”

Legend has been a part of those unusual combinations, notably joining Corinne Bailey Rae and John Mayer in 2007 to perform a medley of Rae’s “Like a Star,” Legend’s “Coming Home” and Mayer’s “Gravity.”

“Those things are always a bit risky, ’cause you never know, but it really worked,” says Legend.

“Ken always wants the show to be different, something people haven’t seen before. And because he has good rapport with artists — he understands where they’re coming from — people trust him.”

Sometimes it’s little things a producer does that earn trust. Simple professionalism. Warmth. Courtesy.
Aretha Franklin, who calls longtime collaborator Ehrlich “fabulous” and hails his “high level of expertise,” says “he’s always on time, because being on time is someone else’s money. and he always knows what he wants, but he’s just so much fun to work with.

“He’s also a gracious and generous man,” continues Franklin. “When I performed at the White House for the PBS Women of Soul special, Ken invited every performer to a seafood dinner. Not all producers do that. That was the icing on the cake.”

Pharrell Williams says that most people who executive produce huge event shows have a fixed vision, “but Ken has a grand vision that is creatively malleable for everyone who’s involved. He’s shown a unique willingness to allow artists to express themselves, and that’s what makes every performance bespoke.

“Because, as Ken always says: If it doesn’t go right, it’s not just the artist. It’s him, too.”

Lisa Schulz contributed to this report.

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