The Songwriters Hall Of Fame Mourns The Passing Of Co-Founder Howard S. Richmond

The Songwriters Hall of Fame was tremendously saddened to learn of the passing of one of our co-founders, Mr. Howard S. Richmond, over the weekend. He was 94 years of age.

“We are grieving the loss of one of our own today,” said Chairman Jimmy Webb. “Howie Richmond was an innovator and titan in the field of music publishing, with a love of popular song, and an undeniable ear for a hit. He was a major philanthropist, and one of the kindest people anyone could be lucky enough to know. The Songwriters Hall of Fame extends our heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of this great pioneer and gentleman.”

In 1969, together with Johnny Mercer and publisher Abe Olman, Richmond co-founded the Songwriters Hall of Fame to celebrate songwriters and educate the public with regard to their achievements, while producing a spectrum of professional programs devoted to the development of new songwriting talent. In 1983, he received the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s first ever Abe Olman Publisher of the Year Award, and in 2009, the prestigious SHOF Founders Award.

Richmond, over his lifetime as a publisher, championed the musical creativity of artists as diverse as: Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bart Howard, Shel Silverstein and Huddie Ledbetter, among many others.

The Story of the Richmond Organization:

Howie Richmond began working in the music business in 1935 as an intern, and soon 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.

In 1949, Richmond decided to concentrate on music publishing and set up Cromwell Music, his debut music publishing venture. He was soon joined in the business by fellow song plugger, Al Brackman and publisher Abe Olman. The song “Music! Music! Music!” by Stephan Weiss and Bernie Baum, recorded by Teresa Brewer, brought Cromwell a number one hit only months after the company was founded.

Richmond subsequently restructured his firm under the banner of The Richmond Organization (TRO), and soon, Mitch Miller and other top record producers began to turn to TRO for new material for their stable of recording artists, hoping for the next big hit. By 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 garner many successes for its talented songwriters via the deejay network.

With the momentum of TRO’s success in the United States, Richmond moved to set up international music publishing companies, hoping to develop new connections 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.

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 SHOF Co-Curator and Board Member 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 famously found a musical home at TRO. Richmond gave Guthrie a portable tape recorder which Guthrie used 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.

In 1954, Richmond teamed up with Bart Howard who wrote “Fly Me To The Moon.” Originally called “In Other Words,” it was Peggy Lee’s suggestion to change the title, and 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.

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.” Included in the TRO “stable” were Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (Stop The World-I Want To Get Off and Roar Of The Greasepaint-The Smell Of The Crowd) with their memorable songs, “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” and “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me),” which 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.

The sixties were a time of protest, and “We Shall Overcome” became the rallying cry for the Civil Rights Movement. In a 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 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.”

Richmond was at the forefront of “Skiffle music,” a British interpretation of traditional American folk music that 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 is survived by his sister, Shirley Gartlir, his children; Frank, Larry, Phill, Robert and Elizabeth, and thirteen grandchildren.

*More information about Howard Richmond is available on our Virtual Museum website.

**Read an article by Palm Spring writer Bruce Fessier here.