|Parent company||Warner Music Group|
|Distributor(s)||Warner Bros. Records
(In the US)
WEA International Inc.
(Outside of the US)
|Country of origin||United States|
|Location||New York City|
Nonesuch was founded in 1964 by Jac Holzman to produce "fine records at the same price as a trade paperback", which would be half the price of a normal LP. To achieve this he initially licensed European recordings of classical music as it would be too expensive to record new material. Originally the label concentrated heavily on chamber and baroque music, often with (then) unique repertory, and typically sold at less-than-premium prices. Upon its formation, Nonesuch operated as a subsidiary label of Elektra Records, which Holzman had launched in 1950. In 1970, Holzman sold Elektra and Nonesuch to Kinney National Company, which became Warner Communications and later part of Time Warner's Warner Music. In 2004, Warner Music Group (WMG) became an independently owned, publicly traded company.
Holzman's tastes led to several firsts for the label, including early electronic releases. Nonesuch commissioned Morton Subotnick's 1967 album Silver Apples of the Moon (made on the Buchla 100), and in 1966 released a 2-LP set of Moog sounds with 16-page booklet called The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music by Beaver & Krause (which spent 26 weeks in Billboard's Top 100 chart), both preceding the enormous popularity of Wendy Carlos's Switched-On Bach (released under the name of Walter Carlos in 1968 by Columbia Masterworks Records).
Teresa Sterne was the coordinator of the company from 1965 until 1979; she was responsible not only for all of the artists & repertory decisions but also for overseeing the increasingly distinctive look of the record jackets. Among the most notable achievements of Sterne's time at the label were the release of George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children, inspired by the poems of Federico García Lorca, which sold more than 70,000 units, and Charles Wourinen's Time's Encomium, which garnered the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1970. Sterne also launched the groundbreaking Explorer Series, building the foundation for the field of world music. Sterne's abrupt termination in December 1979 prompted the New York Times, which only months before had run a piece titled "The Special Touch of Nonesuch," singling out Sterne for praise. The Times speculated that declining sales had led to Sterne's departure.
Sterne's dismissal led to a period of uncertainty and decline. She was replaced by the founder's younger brother Keith Holzman, a production chief who, for the next five years, operated the label from Los Angeles. Former Blue Thumb Records founder Bob Krasnow, who assumed the chairmanship of Elektra Records in 1983, brought in the 34-year-old Bob Hurwitz in 1984, at the time the head of the US division of the Warner Brothers-distributed jazz label ECM Records, to run Nonesuch.
Within the first two years under Hurwitz's leadership, Nonesuch released albums by such young mavericks of "new music" as Steve Reich (The Desert Music, 1985), John Adams (Harmonielehre, 1986), Philip Glass (Mishima, 1985), John Zorn (The Big Gundown, 1985), and Kronos Quartet (Kronos Quartet, 1986). (Kronos Quartet's 1992 album Pieces of Africa would top both the Billboard classical and world music charts.) Hurwitz established a jazz roster at the label, which included Zorn, Wayne Horvitz, and the World Saxophone Quartet. He built upon the world music reputation of Nonesuch, represented up to that point by the Explorer Series, with his signing of Brazilian singer and composer Caetano Veloso, who, like Reich and Adams, has maintained an ongoing relationship with the label for decades. Among Nonesuch world-music successes during the 1980s was the release of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, a recording of the Bulgarian State Television female choir, and the American debut of the Gipsy Kings, which would go on to be certified platinum with over on million in sales. Nonesuch would enjoy even greater success on the world music front in the late 1990s with the release of Buena Vista Social Club, which became the biggest-selling disc in the label's history and spawned many successful solo recordings from the stars of those original Ry Cooder-led sessions in Havana, Cuba.
Following the addition in 1994 of former Elektra Records general manager David Bither to the Nonesuch staff, assuming the role of Senior Vice President and becoming a second A&R presence, the label began to expand its roster to incorporate artists who until then had recorded for more traditional pop music imprints. In the forefront was country-folk singer Emmylou Harris, previously signed to Warner Bros. Records and Elektra Records, whose 2000 album Red Dirt Girl garnered a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Though she had long been a highly regarded interpreter of other writers’ songs, her Nonesuch debut was distinguished by being her first album to primarily feature self-penned compositions. In the decade that followed, k.d. lang, Randy Newman, Shawn Colvin, and Ry Cooder joined the label as did the rock band Wilco, which released four studio albums on the label, starting with its breakthrough disc Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which was released on Nonesuch after it was rejected by Warner Bros. Records. Laurie Anderson has put out three discs with the label, and Nonesuch reissued her seminal Big Science album, an avant-garde project that became an unlikely pop hit in 1982. David Byrne released a solo album, Grown Backwards, on the label, as well as a live concert album with Caetano Veloso, Live at Carnegie Hall, and the original recording of his collaboration with Fatboy Slim, Here Lies Love. That recounting of the life and loves of former Filipino leader Imelda Marcos, was turned into an Off-Broadway musical at The Public Theater in spring of 2013.
Among more recent Nonesuch signings, the most commercially successful has been The Black Keys, the former Akron, Ohio-based duo who parlayed cult status as no-frills blues rockers into an arena-sized following and received multiple Grammy Awards for their 2010 album Brothers and their 2012 released El Camino. (Like Ry Cooder, Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach has also served as producer on other Nonesuch projects, including albums from Ohioan singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield, African desert-blues guitarist Bombino, and New Orleans legend Dr. John, whose Auerbach-produced Locked Down received the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Blues Album).
Singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart made his Nonesuch Records debut with the release of his eighth studio album, Mala, in 2013, as did Iron and Wine, whose fifth album, Ghost on Ghost, was released on Nonesuch in North America (4AD elsewhere).
Forward-thinking traditional groups Carolina Chocolate Drops and Punch Brothers also joined the label, as well as iconoclastic folk interpreter Sam Amidon. The Chocolate Drops, a group exploring the African-American roots of old-time music, won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for its Nonesuch debut, Genuine Negro Jig. Mandolinist and composer Chris Thile of Punch Brothers was named a 2012 MacArthur Fellow, receiving one of 23 “genius” grant awards to extraordinary practitioners in a variety of creative fields. As a solo artist, he has also joined the classical ranks of the label, releasing the first of three discs of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas, written for the violin but transposed by Thile for mandolin. (Thile’s fellow Nickel Creek alum Sara Watkins has released two solo albums on Nonesuch.)
In the late 1990s, after Elektra underwent restructuring at the executive level, Nonesuch was shifted under the umbrella of Warner Music International. In the early 2000s, Nonesuch briefly operated under Atlantic Records, and has operated under Warner Bros. Records since in 2004.
Nonesuch Explorer Series
In the late 1960s, the Explorer Series made the label a pioneer in the field of world music before the term had even been coined. The series, which Nonesuch released from 1967 to 1984, consisted of field recordings made primarily in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe.
For American non-travelers, it was the first exposure to musical idioms such as music produced by a gamelan. In 1977, a few of the recordings were chosen for the Voyager Golden Record, and sent into outer space aboard the Voyager spacecraft. In 2008, one of the first Explorer Series albums, Music from the Morning of the World (1967), comprising early field recordings that the British musicologist David Lewiston had made in Bali in 1966, was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
Many of the original analog recordings of the Nonesuch Explorer Series albums were remastered during the 2000s and re-released, with new packaging, in CD format.
- Holzman, Jac; Daws, Gavan (1998). Follow the Music. FirstMedia Books. p. 97. ISBN 0-9661221-1-9.
- Pinch, Trevor; Frank Trocco (2004). Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesize. Harvard University Press. p. 100. ISBN 0-674-01617-3.
- Pinch 2004, p.126.
- Tommasini, Anthony (December 12, 2000). "Teresa Sterne, 73, Pioneer In Making Classical Records". The New York Times.
- Houghton, Mick (2010). Becoming Elektra: The True Story of Jac Holzman's Visionary Record Label. Jawbone Press. p. 167. ISBN 978-1-906002-29-9.
- "Pulitzer Prize for Music". Retrieved October 24, 2013.
- Davis, Peter G. (April 22, 1979). "The Special Touch of Nonesuch". The New York Times.
- Hammer, Alexander R. (December 6, 1979). "Nonesuch Chief Ousted". The New York Times.
- Gold, Gerald (June 3, 1984). "Record Notes; Nonesuch Returns to New York". The New York Times.
- Cuff, Daniel F. (January 12, 1983). "Business People; Warner Names Head of Elektra Record Unit". The New York Times.
- Pareles, Jon (November 9, 1986). "Recordings; Nonesuch Seeks to Break Down Musical Barriers". The New York Times.
- "Kronos Quartet artist chart listing". Billboard.com. Billboard. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
- Shorto, Russell (October 3, 2004). "The Industry Standard". The New York Times.
- "American album certifications – Gipsy Kings – Gipsy Kings". RIAA.com. Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
- "Nonesuch Senior Vice President David Bither Receives Bang on a Can Visionary Award". Retrieved October 30, 2013.
- Shorto, Alan (December 1, 2011). "First, Hit It Big. Then Change.". The New York Times.
- "Devendra Banhart's Nonesuch Debut Album, "Mala," Out Now; "Career Best," Says Q, "Enthralling"". Retrieved October 30, 2013.
- "Iron and Wine Makes Nonesuch Records Debut with New Album "Ghost on Ghost," Out April 16". Retrieved October 30, 2013.
- "Nonesuch to Release First 4-LP Pkg.". Billboard 79 (32): 48. Aug 12, 1967. ISSN 0006-2510.
- "The Full National Recording Registrty". Retrieved October 30, 2013.