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Don Kirshner 1934-2011

One of America’s greatest music producers, and a driving force in popular music for decades, Don Kirshner, passed away yesterday from heart failure in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 76.

I think it’s sad that there are probably generations who don’t even know his name, or if they do, it’s because of late night infomercials, or they think he’s a character Paul Shaeffer played on “Saturday Night Live.” Of course they are other generations, before the advent of MTV, who know the man and his contributions.

Kirshner was instrumental in starting the careers of numerous songwriters in the 1960s with his “Brill Building” school, where friend and producer Phil Specter also worked. ‘Graduates’ included Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Howard Greenfield, and Gerry Goffin. Together they scored dozens and dozens of hits, before they went on to have careers of their own, while Kirshner himself started several record labels and moved on into television. Known as “The Man with the Golden Ear,” he was one of the folks who created the Monkees, as well as the cartoon Archies, both groups prefabricated, and he also discovered many ‘real’ music acts as well like Bobby Darin and Kansas.

Kirshner was also a 1970s fixture on Sunday late nights with his legendary “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.” There he introduced many acts to America for the first time like Prince, Blue Oyster Cult, Earth Wind and Fire, Parliament Funkadelic, the Sex Pistols, Alice Cooper, Rush, Linda Ronstadt, KISS, Ted Nugent, David Bowie, and the Ramones, just to name a few of the hundreds who appeared on the program. The series, which ran from 1973-1981, was notable for being live and not allowing acts to lipsync, a widespread curse of the 1970s. We didn’t have MTV, we had Don.

We have lost one of the true geniuses of the music industry, he will be missed.

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