According to Bruce Fressier of the Desert Sun, Irvin Green, the Palm Springs-based co-founder of Mercury Records, age 90, died of natural causes at 5 a.m. Saturday at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.
Green was remembered by friends as a recording pioneer who helped break popular music’s color barrier, co-founding Mercury in 1944 – turning it into the first independent record company to become a major label.
Green said growing up among all types of people in the poor west side of Chicago gave him his egalitarian views. “I was brought up in a mixed neighborhood,” he said in an interview with The Desert Sun in January, “and that stayed with me forever.”
While the four majors – RCA, Columbia, Decca and Capitol – promoted their mainstream music through network radio, Mercury distributed jazz, R&B and country western tunes not licensed for network radio through a jukebox network, allowing him to gain national distribution for music that previously had only regional success.
Mercury pioneered a “black sound” by promoting such black artists as Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and the Platters. It recorded Louis Armstrong’s first No. 1 hit in 1964 with “Hello, Dolly!”
It also scored hits by white pop singers such as Vic Damone and the Four Seasons and more folksy artists like Frankie Laine, Patti Page, and Flatt and Scruggs.
Mercury became the first major label to hire a black top executive when Green made Quincy Jones a vice president in charge of artists and repertoire. “Irvin has a broad taste,” Jones said in an interview with The Desert Sun in February before Green’s 90th birthday. “It was across the board and I think that’s what we shared – that diversified taste.”
Green attended St. John’s University in New York for two years before having to get a job during the Depression. He worked in his father’s paint contracting business and went into sheet metal with a partner. They built hydraulic presses and made records.
Jones said one of Green’s many accomplishments was buying the Chappell music publishing catalog for $42 million in 1962 and selling it 12 years later for $110 million.
“It’s worth about a half-billion dollars now,” Jones said.
IRVIN GREEN ARTISTS
Artists who recorded for Mercury Records under Irvin Green and their representative hits:
Frankie Laine, “That’s My Desire,” “Rawhide”
Patti Page, “Tennessee Waltz,” “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window”
Sarah Vaughan, “My Funny Valentine,” “Embraceable You”
Dinah Washington, “Harbor Lights,” “What A Difference A Day Makes”
Charlie Parker, “Charlie Parker With Strings” CD
Dizzy Gillespie (Phillips Records), “No More Blues,” “Desafinado”
Vic Damone, “You’re Breaking My Heart,” “Again”
Louis Armstrong, “Hello, Dolly!”
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”
The Platters: “Only You,” ‘The Great Pretender”
Brook Benton, “It’s Just A Matter of Time,” “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)” with Dinah Washington
The Big Bopper, “Shantilly Lace”
Lesley Gore, “It’s My Party,” “You Don’t Own Me”
The Smothers Brothers, “Aesop’s Fables,” “Mom Always Liked You Best”
The Four Seasons (on Phillips) “Dawn (Go Away),” “Rag Doll”