×

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.

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Maya Thurman Hawke at the Premiere

    Maya Hawke Debuts Two Singles Ahead of Album Release

    Fresh off her Manson cult role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Maya Hawke is turning to music. The “Stranger Things” star released two new singles Friday, “To Love a Boy” and “Stay Open,” both of which will appear on her yet-to-be-titled upcoming album. Hawke wrote the lyrics and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jesse [...]

  • Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music

    As Woodstock Turns 50, the Fest's 10 Most Sacred Music Moments (Watch)

    Cars were left abandoned along the New York Interstate. Electrical and speaker systems fuzzed and popped. Amps blew then went silent. The rain was endless as the mud sank deep and rank. Young children ran naked and dazed through crowds of strangers. Food was scarce. Water, unclean. Looking back, Woodstock seems a more apocalyptic, than [...]

  • 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band

    Film Review: 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas'

    Settling in to watch “ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” you may have a burning question that applies to almost no other rock documentary, and that is: Who, exactly, are these guys? The ones behind the beards? If you’re old enough, of course, you probably know that ZZ Top started out, in 1969, [...]

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST

    Jay-Z to Acquire Ownership Stake in NFL Team (Report)

    Jay-Z will soon acquire a “significant ownership interest” in an NFL team, TMZ reported on Friday. The team was not disclosed, but a source told the site the deal will happen in the “near future,” adding that the billionaire rapper “wants to continue to be a change agent for the NFL.” Jay-Z’s company, Roc Nation, [...]

  • (L-R) NELL WILLIAMS as Eliza, VIVEIK

    How 'Blinded by the Light' Brought Bruce Springsteen's Music to the Screen for a Song

    Blinded by the Light co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha knows firsthand what it feels like to be an outsider. Born in Kenya when the country was a British colony, she grew up part of the Indian/Asian diaspora who made their way from East Africa to London. For that reason, the 59-year-old’s movies has always dealt with the [...]

  • Blake Shelton, Trace AdkinsCMA Music Festival

    Blake Shelton Takes a Shot at 'Old Town Road' in New Single

    Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins have just released a duet, “Hell Right,” that seems to have a beef with “Old Town Road.” But is it a light-hearted, maybe even affectionate slam — or should anyone read culture-war significance into the two country stars expressing a preference for Hank Williams Jr. over Lil Nas X, the breakout [...]

  • Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven

    Department of Justice Backs Led Zeppelin in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Case

    The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the next big music copyright case on the horizon following the Katy Perry “Dark Horse” decision, and taken Led Zeppelin’s side in the long-running copyright dispute that pits the writers of the group’s anthem “Stairway to Heaven” against the publishers of the earlier song “Taurus” by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content