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CHARLES KOPPELMAN, 1940-2022

Charles Koppelman, the trailblazing music-publishing and label exec whose lengthy string of successes stretched from The Lovin’ Spoonful to Tracy Chapman to Wilson Phillips to Vanilla Ice, died Friday (11/25). He was 82.

His daughter, Jenny Koppelman Hutt, announced his death on Facebook: “With a very heavy heart, we want to share that our beloved father, pop-pop and best friend Charles Koppelman passed away peacefully earlier today surrounded by his entire family. His larger-than-life presence will be with us forever.”

At various times he was chairman and CEO of SBK Records, EMI Music Publishing, EMI Records Group North America and The Entertainment Company, which he formed with real-estate developer Sam LeFrak and his longtime associate Martin Bandier. Later in life, he was chairman of the board of Steve Madden Ltd. and executive chairman and principal executive officer of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Koppelman got his start in music as a singer and songwriter, joining two friends in The Ivy Three and scoring a hit with the novelty song “Hey, Yogi.” Released by the tiny Shell Records, it hit #8 in 1960 and led to a package tour with Jan and Dean, Johnny and the Hurricanes and Chubby Checker.

Booked at Grossinger’s Resort Hotel in the Catskills, Koppelman—a phys ed major at Long Island U—met Don Kirshner during a pickup basketball game ("I had a good jump shot; he had a good jump shot"). Kirshner then brought Koppelman and his Ivy Three bandmate Don Rubin into his songwriting stable, which included the teams of Gerry Goffin and Carole King and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

Koppelman nonetheless felt he was better at identifying a hit than penning one, so he moved to the business side after Kirshner sold his Aldon Music to Columbia Pictures. Koppelman landed a year later as managing director of Screen Gems/Columbia Music before forming the publishing firm Koppelman/Rubin Associates. One of their first discoveries was The Lovin' Spoonful.

In the 2016 edition of HITS History of the Music Biz, Koppelman told author Michael Sigman about his first encounter with John Sebastian and his group.

“I was sitting on cartons—we had no furniture yet—and Bob Cavallo walks in and plays me an acetate of ‘Do You Believe in Magic?’ by The Lovin’ Spoonful. I can’t believe I’m listening to this. I took it home and listened to it about a thousand times, came back the next day and called them and said, ‘I’d like to see the band.’

“They were playing at the Night Owl in Greenwich Village. I took Joe Wissert, whom I’d signed as a producer, and Don Rubin with me. I’m watching the Lovin’ Spoonful sing songs from the first album and I’m flipping out. I tell Joe, ‘Make believe you’re not that interested.’ I tell Bob Cavallo we’d like to sign the group. We offered $2,500. They said they had gotten an offer from Jac Holzman at Elektra Records for $10,000. I said, ‘Why don’t you come by tomorrow?’

“They came up the next day and I went through this whole speech about how Elektra is a folk label and we’re gonna make them a pop act. And they said, ‘Well, why don’t you come down tonight? Holzman is coming down. I think he’s bringing a check for $10,000.’ I said, ‘Look, I can only bring $2,500.’ So we go—we see Jac Holzman in the parking garage—and we’re standing in front of the Night Owl, and I convince those guys to take my $2,500.

“I played it for Artie Ripp at Kama Sutra Records—he had a deal with MGM—and he flipped. I said, ‘I’ll make a deal with you, but you have to pay us 11%.’ He was getting 12% from MGM. He moaned, he screamed, he yelled, but he said, ‘OK.’

“I saw what I thought were the American Beatles. It was a different world than the world of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. But it was music; it was not a mystery."

This success led the film company Commonwealth United to acquire Koppelman/Rubin in 1968, retaining Koppelman and Rubin to run the new music division.

Starting in 1971, Koppelman began a four-year association with April/Blackwood Music, the publishing wing of CBS. He simultaneously became national director of A&R for Columbia Records, where he was instrumental in the signing of Billy Joel, Journey, Phoebe Snow and others, rising to VP and general manager of worldwide publishing for the CBS Records group.

“I signed Dave Mason,” Koppelman said in History of the Music Biz. “I signed Mighty Three Music, which was all the Gamble and Huff stuff. I was an entrepreneur, not a corporate guy. I knew everyone, so it was easy for me to maneuver. I knew the folks at BMI. We changed the rate. I mean, I did stuff that most people would have never thought of in a million freaking years, right?"

Koppelman, LeFrak and Bandier formed The Entertainment Company in 1975 and over its nine years, it acquired the hits of The Fifth Dimension, The Rascals and Neil Sedaka; produced hits for Eddie Murphy, Glen Campbell, Cher and The Weather Girls; and brought together, at Koppelman’s suggestion, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie (“Endless Love”), Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb (“Guilty”); and Streisand and Donna Summer (“No More Tears”).

In 1986, Koppelman and Bandier, with financier S.C. Swid, formed SBK Entertainment World, which quickly became the globe's largest independent publisher.

Their first move was to purchase CBS Songs for $125m. The catalog contained more than 250k titles, including Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow” and Fred Ebb and John Kander’s “New York, New York,” and oversaw licensing for the ATV Music Group, which included many of The Beatles' copyrights.

After launching the careers of Tracy Chapman and New Kids on the Block, SBK sold its publishing interests to Thorn EMI for more than $300m in 1988. As part of the deal, Koppelman and Bandier formed SBK Records as a joint venture with EMI.

“This was my dream, to build a record company and control an international business where I could have my artists on the record company and a team that would explode them around the world,” Koppelman said. “We shook hands and we did it. We combined the publishing companies in 90 days. And SBK Records was just a runaway freight train."

In 1989, Koppelman became chairman and CEO of EMI Music Publishing and Bandier became vice chairman of the company. SBK, meanwhile, enjoyed hits by Katrina and the Waves, launched Wilson Phillips, scored a platinum LP with Technotronic’s Pump Up the Jam and released the platinum soundtrack album to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He was key to bringing Frank Sinatra back to Capitol for the album Duets.

“Then there were big politics,” he remembered in Sigman’s profile. “They had just re-signed me to a new five-year deal worth a tremendous amount of money, more money than I ever imagined anyone would pay anybody. And then [in 1997] they fired me. The headline of the New York Post was, ‘Koppelman leaves with $50 million.’”

After handling the businesses of Steve Madden and Martha Stewart, he formed CAK Entertainment, a brand-development and advisory firm, through which he lent his marketing, branding and dealmaking prowess to Nicki Minaj, Adam Levine, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, among others.

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