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SAIL ON, SAILOR:
CHUCK KAYE,
1940-2021

We’ve lost a legendary music man, a publishing icon, a world-class mensch and a larger-than-life personality with the passing of Chuck Kaye on 2/1 in Santa Barbara from complications of COVID-19. He was 80.

“The Kaye and Sill families are heartbroken with his loss,” reads a statement from his clan. “Deeply loved husband, father, brother, friend and maker of memories, Chuck was a light that will shine forever. He was an exceptionally successful music executive and world-class sailor, with over 100,000 open-ocean miles.”

Kaye protégée Carianne Marshall is acutely aware of the great man’s generosity of spirit and generous imparting of his vast store of knowledge, as she rose from eager student to Co-Chair/COO of Warner Chappell, the house that Chuck built.

“Chuck Kaye was a visionary architect of modern music publishing, and the force behind the formation of Warner Chappell Music 34 years ago,” Marshall said in a statement cosigned by Co-Chair/CEO Guy Moot. “He was a champion of songwriters, and an extraordinarily strategic thinker and technological leader who was always the first to see where the business was headed. Chuck formed and led a series of seminal publishers, including Almo/Irving, Geffen/Kaye, Windswept Pacific and DreamWorks. Our company wouldn’t be what it is today without Chuck’s inspiration, creativity, foresight, boldness and sheer love of songs and those who write them. He will be deeply missed.”

Chuck learned the business from his stepfather, Lester Sill. “My stepdad was a pioneer in the music business, truly a legendary figure in the music world,” Chuck explained in an interview for Santa Barbara’s Sansum Clinic, for which he served on the Board of Trustees. “In the beginning, he sold records for jukeboxes, but he worked his way up to become a producer and publisher.

“In 1961, my stepfather joined forces with Phil Spector, so that should tell you something. The name of the company was Philles Records, which combined the first parts of both their names—Phil and Les. After about a year, they dissolved their partnership, and Phil owned the business by himself. He asked me to run it for him. I was only 21 years old, but so was Phil. It was a young-people’s game back then and probably still is.

“Working with Phil Spector was an amazing opportunity for me, which is a story unto itself. I stayed there until 1964, when I moved to Los Angeles from New York City to become the West Coast Director of the new Aldon Music. While at Aldon, I was able to work with songwriters, people like Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

“After I left Aldon in 1967, I started the publishing wing for Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss of A&M Records. We were responsible for signing talent, including performers like Bob Marley, Steve Winwood, Bryan Adams, Paul Williams and Peter Frampton. Those were heady days.”

In 1977, Chuck became President of both Almo/Irving and Rondor Music, while doubling as VP of A&M. In 1980, he went into partnership with David Geffen to form Geffen/Kaye Music Publishing and signed John Lennon. A year later, Geffen/Kaye was acquired by Warner Bros. Music, and Chuck was named Chairman. The company subsequently merged with Chappell & Co., and he became CEO, a position he held for 10 years. “We signed various acts, including Michael Jackson, David Foster, The Beach Boys and Madonna,” he recalled. “Let’s say I worked with a lot of interesting—and sometimes challenging—artists.

“Sometimes serendipity enters the picture. For instance, Crocker National Bank contacted me to have a song written for a commercial, and I had my contract writers, Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, write a song. The result was called ‘We’ve Only Just Begun.’ Richie Carpenter saw the ad, we ended up recording it with The Carpenters and it was a worldwide #1 single. Some of it was being at the right place at the right time.

“It’s a tough but very rewarding business. When I came on, the business exploded! Pop tunes had a lot more energy than the songs of the ’50s, and record sales went through the roof! One of the best parts of this for me has been when we’ve been in a foreign country and one of our songs starts playing. Even though the words may be in a different language, the music is the same. It’s a thrill to see people’s reactions when they hear those songs, and it always amazes me to think that our music is heard all over the world.”

In 1997, Chuck reunited with David Geffen as Head of Music Publishing at DreamWorks and remained there until he retired in 2004.

Chuck is survived by wife Rebecca; daughters Darcy, Molly and Emily; brothers Joel and Lonnie; grandson Charlie and rescue dog Rocky. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Sansum Clinic.

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