Howie Richmond began working in the music business in 1935 as an intern for George Lottman, dean of Broadway press agents. Following this learning experience, Richmond set up his own press office, publicizing such soon-to-be legendary clients as Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, the Andrews Sisters, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa and bandleader, Larry Clinton.
After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Richmond worked for a time at The American Theater Wing. He then joined forces with Buddy Robbins operating Robbins Artist Bureau, a spin-off from parent company Robbins, Feist and Miller. Later, the firm was renamed American Artists Bureau and for a time represented the singer Sarah Vaughan, among others.
Richmond decided to concentrate on music publishing and set up his own office, a one-room affair on West 57th Street, where Cromwell Music, his debut music publishing venture, first saw the light of day in 1949. Richmond was soon joined in the business by fellow song plugger, Al Brackman and Abe Olman, former head of Robbins, Feist and Miller.
Working on the firm’s very first song, Richmond persuaded renowned bandleader Guy Lombardo to record the rhythm novelty, “Hop-Scotch Polka” for Decca Records. The record reached the number 16 slot on the best-selling charts. The tune was written by British music hall star, Billy Whitlock and Gene Rayburn with new lyrics by the American, Carl Sigman. The second song, “Music! Music! Music!” by Stephan Weiss and Bernie Baum and recorded by Teresa Brewer, brought Cromwell a number one hit only months after the company was founded.
Songwriters soon flocked to the hot new publisher. With activities developing on many fronts, Richmond restructured his firm under the banner of The Richmond Organization (TRO). Mitch Miller and other top record producers turned to TRO for new material for their stable of recording artists hoping for the next big hit.In the 1950’s, the hits kept coming. “Goodnight, Irene” catapulted folk quartet, The Weavers, into stardom. Guy Mitchell’s recording of “The Roving Kind” was the next big success and when Phil Harris’ recording of “The Thing” topped the charts in December 1950, Howie Richmond was the hottest independent music publisher in the industry.One of the most important factors in Richmond’s early success was his unique style of song plugging and promotion which centered on radio exploitation via disc jockeys. While other music publishers plugged new songs via live performances, with recordings usually made after songs were established and on the best-selling sheet music charts, Richmond and company started songs on shellac singles and plugged them with disc jockeys in numerous cities until record sales took off. Airplay didn’t guarantee a hit, but it gave the song an immediate audience and TRO was able to witness many successes for its talented songwriters via the deejay network.Hot on the heels of his initial success, 1951 proved to be another banner year with Jimmy Rodgers hit rendition of “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and the Weavers’ “So Long It’s Been Good To Know Yuh” making the charts.
Doris Day had a solid hit in 1952 with Oscar Brand’s catchy tune, “A Guy Is A Guy,” followed by Rosemary Clooney’s recording of “Botch-A-Me.” The decade played on with many more chart hits, including “I Believe,” “Anna,” “Band Of Gold” and “Tom Dooley.”With the momentum of TRO’s success in the United States, Richmond moved to set up international music publishing companies, hoping to develop new repertoire from every source possible. England was the first stop, with France, Italy and Germany to follow. By the early 1960’s, TRO had a presence in every major market around the world.
The folk revival was sparked by the songs of The Weavers and the great reservoir of Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie songs. Richmond partnered with Pete Kameron, who was at the center of this exciting development and the folk catalog became the foundation for TRO’s early acceptance and continued international success.
Richmond acquired the vast catalog of Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, who wrote hundreds of songs and attracted audiences with his powerful voice wherever he performed. Lead Belly’s songs were inspirational to young writers and musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Oscar Brand. Over the years, Lead Belly’s music has become an important resource for many artists including the Beach Boys (“Cotton Fields”), Eric Clapton (“Alberta”) and Nirvana (“Where Did You Sleep Last Night”).
Woody Guthrie, found a musical home at TRO. Richmond gave Guthrie a portable tape recorder which Guthrie used at home and wherever inspiration led him. His tapes often started with the phrase “Here’s another song for the Weavers”. While others were writing popular love songs, Guthrie wrote songs about common people and their struggles. “This Land Is Your Land”, “Deportee”, “So Long It’s Been Good To Know Yuh” and “Pastures Of Plenty” are only a few of the hundreds of songs Guthrie wrote.
Less than a year after Gordon Jenkins’ arrangement of “Goodnight, Irene” reached number one, The Weavers’ meteoric rise to stardom ended. Their strong social and political beliefs resulted in blacklisting in 1951 as part of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt. The Weavers waited five years before their triumphant return to Carnegie Hall in late 1955. The political activism of the Weavers, Woody Guthrie and others had already inspired the folk music revival lasting into the sixties.
In 1954, Richmond teamed up with Bart Howard, who wrote “Fly Me To The Moon”. Originally titled “In Other Words”, the song was performed nightly in many New York cabarets. Soon after, a dozen artists including Portia Nelson, Kaye Ballard and Felicia Sanders had recorded it and at Peggy Lee’s suggestion, the title was changed to “Fly Me To The Moon.” Joe Harnell’s 1962 instrumental recording with the new bossa nova beat for Kapp Records produced immediate chart activity. The song quickly became TRO’s first classic pop standard. Over a thousand recordings have been made worldwide, most notably by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Peggy Lee. In 1994, Bennett performed the tune live on MTV Unplugged, and to everybody’s surprise and delight, won over a whole new audience of young people. Over the years, “Fly Me To The Moon” has become one of his most requested songs.
TRO expanded into the jazz field by signing pianist Bill Evans, who wrote “Waltz For Debby,” a standard performed and recorded by hundreds of singers and jazz instrumentalists.
Richmond was always on the lookout for new and talented songwriters. He traveled overseas and worked closely with budding international songwriters like Tony Newley, Leslie Bricusse and Charles Aznavour, finding new and established artists to record their extensive repertoire.
In 1960, London had become the new hot spot for popular music and Richmond was at the forefront. Musicals were the rage and TRO tapped the talents of Lionel Bart (Oliver!) whose output included show standards “Where Is Love?” and “As Long As He Needs Me” and Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (Stop The World-I Want To Get Off and Roar Of The Greasepaint-The Smell Of The Crowd). Their memorable songs, “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” and “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” became hits for Newley, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett. In 1964, Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray’s Broadway show High Spirits (based on Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit) opened and produced “You’d Better Love Me” introduced by Petula Clark.
From France came the music of Charles Aznavour, whose 1969 hit song “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” (with a lyric by The United Kingdom’s Herbert Kretzmer) was recorded by country music artist Roy Clark and became a major international hit. Aznavour’s one-man shows continue to mesmerize audiences with appearances on Broadway and throughout the world.
The sixties were a time of protest and “We Shall Overcome” became the rallying cry for the Civil Rights Movement. In tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, TRO issued a special sheet music edition with Dr. King’s photograph on the cover. Other protest songs were also popularized, such as “If I Had A Hammer,” written by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger, which Trini Lopez and Peter, Paul and Mary recorded. Folk rock was born when the Byrds recorded Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!”
During this period, TRO had become the hub of an independent music publishing explosion. On both sides of the Atlantic, TRO was hot. When Paul McCartney was looking for a debut song for Apple Records in 1968, he remembered a live performance at the London nightclub Blue Angel by the American folk duo Gene and Francesca Raskin. Before long Mary Hopkin’s rendition of Gene Raskin’s “Those Were The Days” was on every radio play list around the world.
TRO developed close and lasting relationships with many of the talented artists and songwriters. Notably, Shel Silverstein, a multi-talented artist, poet, playwright and songwriter. Silverstein, who early on penned “The Unicorn”, created such classics as “Cover Of The Rolling Stone” and “A Boy Named Sue.”
Another was Anne Burt, wife of the late composer Al Burt who began The Alfred Burt Christmas Carols in the early forties as family greeting cards. Through the years the Burt Carols have been recorded by such stars as Nat King Cole and recently by pianist George Winston.
Richmond was at the forefront of Skiffle music, a British interpretation of traditional American folk music, enjoyed major popularity in England in the mid-fifties and early sixties. Lonnie Donegan scored impressive hits with “Rock Island Line” and “Midnight Special” both songs identified with Lead Belly. With its vast folk repertoire as a vital source of music, TRO’s UK affiliate, Essex Music, attracted many young musicians, looking for new opportunities.
In partnership with David Platz, Richmond’s Essex Music helped in the early development of The Who (“My Generation”), Procol Harum (“A Whiter Shade of Pale”), The Moody Blues (“Nights in White Satin”), T-Rex (“Bang a Gong”), David Bowie (’Space Oddity”), Joe Cocker (“Woman to Woman”) and Black Sabbath (“Iron Man”) among others.
A spectacular brand of success came to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” released in the USA in early 1973, and quickly rising to number one on the charts. The album remained on the Top 100 for a record 375 weeks and continues to this day on the Top Pop Catalog Album Chart, after an amazing 32 years.
TRO was fortunate to work with Buck Ram on “Only You” and “Twilight Time” recorded by The Platters. Alec Wilder brought his standards to TRO, “I’ll Be Around,” “While We’re Young” and “It’s So Peaceful In The Country.” A little known but highly acclaimed children’s songbook Lullabies And Night Songs by Wilder and Engvick (with illustrations by Maurice Sendak) inspired Shawn Colvin to perform many of its songs in her 1998 Christmas recording Holiday Songs And Lullabies.
Richmond recalled first hearing “September Song” performed by Walter Huston in 1938 in the musical Knickerbocker Holiday on Broadway. He never could have imagined Lotte Lenya, Kurt Weill’s widow, choosing him to be Weill’s American music publisher. Weill collaborated with many of America’s greatest lyricists of the time including Maxwell Anderson, Ira Gershwin, Alan Jay Lerner, Ogden Nash, Langston Hughes, Paul Green, Ann Ronell and Arnold Sundgaard. Even when the music wasn’t developed from manuscript, it found its way to TRO’s doorstep.
In 1969, together with Johnny Mercer and Abe Olman, Richmond co-founded the National Academy of Popular Music and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame to honor songwriters for their lifetime contributions to popular music. In 1983, Howie Richmond received the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s first ever Abe Olman Publisher of the Year Award.
Richmond continues as Chairman of the Board of The Richmond Organization and The Essex Music Group, one of the largest and last remaining independent music publishing companies in the world.