New York, NY (March 15, 2017)—Producer, label founder and music executive Tommy LiPuma died Monday, March 13, in New York of an undisclosed illness at the age of 80. Across his 50-plus year career, LiPuma produced the likes of Miles Davis, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Diana Krall, Randy Newman, David Sanborn, Natalie Cole, Queen Latifah, George Benson, Willie Nelson, Bob James, The Crusaders, The Yellowjackets, Anita Baker, Aztec Camera, Everything But The Girl and dozens of others, developing a reputation as one of the most musical producers in the fields of jazz, R&B and adult contemporary pop.
As a result, LiPuma ultimately racked up 33 Grammy nominations, of which he won five, and had career sales of 75 million albums—a number bolstered by 35 albums that achieved RIAA Gold and/or Platinum sales status under his aegis. Five decades into his career, LiPuma was still regularly producing albums, like trumpeter Dominick Farinacci's 2016 collection, Short Stories, and Diana Krall’s upcoming Turn Up The Quiet—his eleventh time producing the singer—which was recorded with longtime collaborator, legendary engineer Al Schmitt.
Born July 5, 1936, LiPuma suffered a lengthy bone infection while growing up in Cleveland. Passing the time with a radio, he fell in love R&B and Jazz, and was inspired to take up the saxophone. That appreciation of music led to him finding his calling after he dropped out of high school and worked briefly as a barber like his father. Tipped off by a customer about a low-paying warehouse job packing records, LiPuma jumped at the opportunity and worked his way up to become a local promotion rep.
By 1961, he had moved to Los Angeles and worked in promotion for Liberty Records before moving into music publishing, where he began producing demos for promising songwriters like Randy Newman. In 1964, his first released production, The O’Jays’ “Lipstick Traces,” became a top 40 R&B hit and soon he was hired to be the first staff producer for A&M Records—a position he eventually left to co-found the Blue Thumb label with Bob Krasnow in 1968.
Despite founding the label, LiPuma began producing albums for other labels in the early 1970s (including Barbra Streisand’s The Way We Were soundtrack), which in turn led to him working as an executive for numerous major labels for the rest of his career, including Warner Bros, Electra, GRP and Verve, the latter of which he served as both Chairman, and subsequently Chairman Emeritus, of the Verve Music Group from 1998 to 2011.
His first Grammy win came for George Benson’s “This Masquerade,” a track from the LiPuma-produced 1976 album, Breezin’. The producer picked up his second Grammy win with Natalie Cole’s 7x Platinum Unforgettable…With Love album which he executive produced, producing eight tracks on the collection. LiPuma garnered his third Grammy for a live album with Krall—2002’s Live in Paris—and his fourth and fifth for producing Paul McCartney’s 2011 standards collection, Kisses On The Bottom, and its concert DVD counterpart, 2013’s Live Kisses.
In recent years, LiPuma (right) gave numerous master classes at Cuyahoga Community College's Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts in Cleveland. Photo: Cuyahoga Community College
In 2012, LiPuma gave a $3 million legacy gift to Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, which named its arts center the Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts in his honor. LiPuma noted at the ribbon cutting, “I feel like I’m giving something back to the community and the town I got my break in, that I started in the music business in. It’s a very satisfying thing.” The arts center, which features recording studios, digital labs, dance studios, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s library and archives, and more, was often the site of master classes which he frequently gave, and he later produced the 2016 Dominick Farinacci album at the facility.
LiPuma is survived by his wife Gill, daughters Jen Monti and Danielle Wiener, and grandchildren Matty, Julia, Chloe and Ava. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made in his name to the Tommy LiPuma Endowment Fund at Cuyahoga Community College or to City Meals on Wheels.
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