As a pioneering executive, he was responsible for the careers of Joni Mitchell, the Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, and others at the label.
Warner Brothers Records’ legendary label executive Mo Ostin, who led the company to artistic and commercial success for more than 30 years, died in his sleep on July 31, at the age of 95.
Many artists have credited him, including The Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, R.E.M., Randy Newman, and others,
As “one of the greatest record men of all time, and a prime architect of the modern music business,” Tom Corson, co-chairman and chief executive of Warner Records, and Aaron Bay-Schuck, co-chairman and CEO said.
“For Mo, it was always first and foremost about helping artists realize their vision,” they say. “One of the pivotal figures in the evolution of Warner Music Group, in the 1960s, Mo ushered Warner/Reprise Records into a golden era of revolutionary, culture-shifting artistry. Over his next three decades at the label, he remained a tireless champion of creative freedom, both for the talent he nurtured and the people who worked for him. Mo lived an extraordinary life doing what he loved and will deeply miss; he helped create and inspired them to be their best selves by countless artists and colleagues. On behalf of everyone at Warner, we want to thank Mo for everything he did and his inspiring belief in our bright future. Our condolences go out to his family at this difficult time.”
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who received a Trustees Award from the Recording Academy in 2017, was born in New York and raised in Los Angeles, where he attended Fairfax High School and UCLA. Beginning his career at Verve Records, he was recruited by Frank Sinatra to run Reprise Records. Warner Brothers acquired Reprise a few years later, and Ostin quickly captured the pop zeitgeist by signing The Kinks. Then, he brought Hendrix, Mitchell, and Young to the label in no time.
He was appointed president of Warner Bros. Records in 1970 and served as chairman and CEO until 1994. The labels became the home of an astonishing range of artists during his tenure, including Van Halen, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, the B-52s, Paul Simon, ZZ Top, George Benson, Don Henley, Tom Petty, Green Day, Van Dyke Parks, Dire Straits, Chaka Khan, and Prince. He signed with the label in 1977.
Ostin was close to many artists for decades, including Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, who posted on Instagram: “Mo Ostin was a true gentleman. He was honest, kind, and beloved. I am so grateful that he was a part of my life; his stories, his humor, his love for his work, he is the greatest person I ever met in the music business. He made me feel valued, understood, and welcome when I was a confused kid with a lot of growing up to do.”
His contemporary Sony Music Entertainment chief creative officer Clive Davis considers him a fierce competitor but a close friend. “Mo Ostin was one of a kind. And the company he chaired was unique in its extraordinary management and, of course, the depth of artistry which affected contemporary music and culture so profoundly and historically,” he said in a statement. “Yes, he and I competed with each other for many years, but my friendship with him extended to our respective families, and I will always cherish our very close relationship.”
Ostin’s wife, Evelyn, and his two sons, Randy and Kenny, preceded him in death. A son survives him, Michael.
Ostin’s low-key style is perhaps best exemplified by Warner Brothers’ ex-executive Stan Cornyn, during his Rock Hall induction, for trusting the people he hired to work for him: “Mo was brilliant. So brilliant that he never told us how to do our job.”
Mo Ostin, Warner Bros legend, died at 95.