William “Bill” Dern, a longtime music executive who worked with such acts as New Edition, the Temptations, Tangerine Dream and the Four Tops, died of a stroke in Los Angeles on Sept. 11. He was 74.
Born in Ridgewood, New Jersey on August 22, 1945, Dern was an avid music lover who played multiple instruments — drums, piano, banjo — and wrote arrangements. While still in high school, he worked in jazz clubs and recording studios. Following his university studies at U of Penn’s Wharton, where he received a degree in economics, he went to work on Wall Street, eventually returning to music and bringing along the business skills he picked up from finance.
Dern’s first job in the music industry was to carry records to Carnegie Hall for Louis Armstrong. He later went on to work for jazz label CTI, TWN Management (Michael Kamen, Tangerine Dream, Commander Cody, Kool and the Gang, Dr. John) 1981 to 1985 and AMI Management (New Edition, John Waite, Donny Osmond, Sister Sledge) through 1991 when he relaunched Bill Dern Management.
He was also a noted producer, whose credits include New Edition’s hit song “Cool It Now” and music by the Four Tops and The Temptations as well as the Motown Christmas album.
Film rounded out Dern’s entertainment interests, starting in 1981 when he was cast as banjo player for John Waters’ “Polyester.” He went on to such roles as music supervisor (1994’s “Boca,” the forthcoming independent feature “Holy New York”)) and business affairs (“Hate Crime,” “Sedona”).
Consulting for Diane Warren along with such record labels as Atlantic, RCA, Motown and BMG, among others, kept Dern firmly entrenched in the industry for years after.
Dern is survived by his longtime love, Roberta Thompson; his cousins David Meinert, Eric Mercury, Don Sorkin, Steven Machat; and dear friends Diane Warren and Chris Corabi (Annapurna Pictures).
An announcement of his death notes that Dern “had no children but mentored and loved young several musicians who became his surrogate children: Shanice Wilson, Ebony Tay, Don Schnieder, Doug Bigsby.”
Donations in Dern’s memory can be made to MusiCares and Film Forum. A memorial will be held in Los Angeles at a later date.