New York, NY (March 9, 2016)—Legendary producer George Martin has died at the age of 90. Known for his work producing the Beatles throughout the band’s career, he had his hand in dozens of classic songs now known the world over. Martin also recorded numerous other artists, created the AIR Studios in London and Montserrat, and was knighted in 1996. The cause of death has not been announced at press time.
Martin was born January 3, 1926 in London, England. While he trained to become a classical composer, he instead wound up working in the classical music department of the BBC, and in 1950, moved to Parlophone, one of four labels owned by EMI at the time, working as an assistant to the head of the company. He took over the label in 1955—an achievement at 29—only to discover that he had inherited EMI’s least-successful branch.
Over the ensuing years, he turned the label around, carving out a niche for Parlophone with hit comedy records featuring the likes of Flanders & Swann and a young Peter Sellars, then best-known for his work on the influential surrealist-comedy radio program, The Goon Show.
While comedy records were expensive to produce, requiring both time and many hands behind the scenes to develop, the emerging rock n’ roll genre did not. Case in point: the Beatles’ first album, recorded in one marathon session under Martin’s guidance. Though initially unimpressed by the genre, it made good business sense to find a rock n’ roll act for Parlophone, due to the music’s popularity and comparatively low production cost—and that led to his signing the Beatles.
Bringing the band to Parlophone in the summer of 1962, he and the group would form one of the most high-profile—and closely examined—examples of a band/producer relationship, as together they spawned hit after hit. While the group wrote numerous songs now considered standards, Martin brought to the table a broad knowledge and understanding of music that the group didn’t possess yet; through his encouragement and by employing his abilities as needed to aid their recording efforts, the songwriters progressed from the comparative simplicity of “Love Me Do” to the adventurous, groundbreaking sounds of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and staid restraint of the strings-backed “Eleanor Rigby” within four years.
His stamp could be found all over the group’s music, such as when he suggested that “Yesterday” be recorded with strings—for which he then wrote the arrangement; the Bach-like pseudo-spinet solo on “In My Life” (Martin playing a piano part against slowed tracks that were later brought up to speed); and more. His experience in producing comedy albums also came in handy when the Beatles retired from touring and focused their energies on increasingly ambitious, psychedelic productions in the studio; the comedy records had been an inadvertent training ground for creating sonic pictures that the Beatles created in later songs like “A Day in the Life.”
After the dissolution of the Beatles in 1970, Martin went on to record hit albums with artists as varied as Seventies folk-rockers America and Eighties new wave paragons Ultravox. Other artists he produced over the years included Ella Fitzgerald, Elton John, Little River Band, Kenny Rogers, Robin Gibb, Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Kate Bush and many others.
He founded Associated Independent Recording (AIR) in 1965, starting its first London studio in 1969 and later its renowned Montserrat facility in 1979 which was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The facility—and indeed his entire career—was revisited in the stellar 2011 documentary, Produced by George Martin (which Pro Sound Newsreviewed favorably).
Martin gave the Keynote Address at the 1994 Audio Engineering Society Convention in San Francisco, and on May 10, 2010, received an AES Honorary Member Award at the AES Convention in London that year.
As news spread of Martin’s death, artists he worked with posted tributes online. Paul McCartney, in a lengthy essay, noted, “He was a true gentleman and like a second father to me. He guided the career of The Beatles with such skill and good humour that he became a true friend to me and my family. If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle, it was George. From the day that he gave The Beatles our first recording contract, to the last time I saw him, he was the most generous, intelligent and musical person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.”
Ringo Starr reportedly broke the news of Martin’s passing, tweeting, “God bless George Martin peace and love to Judy and his family love Ringo and Barbara George will be missed xxx”
Modern-day production peers also paid tribute on social media, such as Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars), who tweeted, “Thank you Sir George Martin: the greatest British record producer of all time. We will never stop living in the world you helped create.”
Martin leaves behind his wife of nearly fifty years, Judy Lockhart Smith, and four children.