LAS VEGAS (AP) — Rock promoter Don Kirshner, whom Time magazine once dubbed the “Man With the Golden Ear,” died Monday in a Florida hospital, a close friend and business associate said. He was 76.
Promoter Jack Wishna told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Kirshner was in a hospital in Boca Raton being treated for an infection.
“Donny Kirshner would take a kid off the street, bring him up to his office in the Brill Building and turn him into Neil Diamond, Carole King, James Taylor, on and on,” Wishna said. “I haven’t spoken to anyone in the music business that Donny hasn’t either discovered, promoted, or touched in some way.
“I’ve never seen anybody like this in my life,” he said. Kirshner was behind “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” in 1972, and gave national exposure to musicians including Billy Joel and The Police. The show also boosted careers of comics including Billy Crystal, Arsenio Hall and David Letterman.
Paul Shaffer, Letterman’s musical director, used to give a deadpan performance during his imitation of Kirshner on “Saturday Night Live.” Shaffer and Kirshner worked together on the short-lived sitcom, “A Year at the Top”, according to Shaffer’s manager.
Pop singer Tony Orlando, whom Kirshner hired for $50 a week to record demos, said his mentor was like the Thomas Edison of music.
“Every dream I ever had as a kid, he was my genie,” Orlando told AP.
Orlando said Kirshner was responsible for so many careers, “it would make your head spin.”
“This was not just a song guy, this was a man who created the cornerstones of American pop music as we know it today,” Orlando said. “Without Donny Kirshner, the music we know of today would not be the same. He was a game-changer, and I tell you that me and my family feel this tremendous loss for this man.”
The show also featured artists Kirshner helped launch including Prince, The Eagles, Lionel Richie and Ozzy Osborne.
The Brill Building was a hit factory — notable for attracting songwriters, agents and others as tenants. More than 160 of its tenants were in the music industry by the early 1960s, according to New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Wishna said Kirshner was a mentor who knew the art of discovering talent and cared about the artists he worked with.
“He was a father to these people even though some of them were three or four years younger than him,” Wishna said.
Wishna said Kirshner was a pioneer who developed a system for singer-songwriters to share in the profits of selling music.
Howard Kramer, curatorial director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said Kirshner will be most remembered for “nurturing and developing an early, unprecedented amount of artists, mostly songwriters, and also a television pioneer for bringing live rock ‘n’ roll to television.”
Kirshner also ran three labels, Dimension Records, Colgems Records and Kirshner Records.
Before he died, Kirshner was chief creative officer of Rockrena, a company launching this year to find and promote talent online.
Early in his career, Kirshner was music supervisor for “The Monkees” as well as music consultant for “Bewitched,” “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Archie’s Fun House.”
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