Walter Yetnikoff

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Walter Yetnikoff
Walter Yetnikoff Paul McCartney.jpg
Walter Yetnikoff and Paul McCartney
Born (1933-08-11) August 11, 1933 (age 80)
Brooklyn, New York, US
Residence New York City
Nationality American
Alma mater Brooklyn College
Columbia University
Years active 1958–present
Spouse(s) June May (deceased), Cynthia (divorced), Lynda Kady (m. 2007 - present)
Children 2 sons - Michael and Daniel
Parents Max and Bella Yetnikoff

Walter Yetnikoff (Born August 11, 1933) was the president of CBS Records International from 1971 to 1975 and then president and CEO of CBS Records from 1975 to 1990.

During his career at CBS, he guided the careers of Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, and a host of other well-known artists.[1]

After graduating from Columbia Law School where he was an editor of the Columbia Law Review, he served in the U.S. Army from 1956 - 1958. He then was hired by the law firm Rosenman, Colin, Kaye, Petschek and Freund which represented William S. Paley and CBS.

In 1962, Yetnikoff joined CBS Records as an attorney. After serving as general counsel of the CBS Records law department, he went on to head CBS Records International which grew exponentially under his leadership.

In 1975, William Paley made him President and CEO of CBS Records. During his tenure he attracted stars like James Taylor away from Warner Music Group and went on to “preside over the most profitable and prestigious stable of artists of all time.”[2][3]

With Yetnikoff at the helm of CBS Records, Michael Jackson’s Thriller Album sold over 40 million copies, Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. sold over 20 million and Billy Joel’s The Stranger sold in excess of 13 million.

Yetnikoff was known for being a strong advocate for artists. For example, Billy Joel speaks of how Yetnikoff bought back Joel’s publishing rights and gave them to him as a birthday present. Yetnikoff notes in the documentary film The Last Play at Shea that he had to threaten Artie Ripp to close the deal.[4]

At CBS, Yetnikoff was the chief architect of the sale of CBS Records to Sony to create Sony Music Entertainment in January 1988.

He, his wife, Lynda, and their dog, Alexandra, currently reside in New York City and upstate New York.

Personal[edit]

Yetnikoff was born in Brooklyn to Bella and Max Yetnikoff. He attended P.S. 182., P.S. 149, Brooklyn Technical High School, and went on to graduate magna cum laude from Brooklyn College in 1953, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He went on to Columbia Law School attaining a full scholarship after his first year. In the U.S. Army Yetnikoff served in Germany at the height of the Cold War.[5]

After completing his tour of duty, he went on to join Rosenman, Colin, Kaye, Petschek and Freund.[6]

Career[edit]

CBS Records International[edit]

After leaving Rosenman, Yetnikoff became an attorney in the CBS Records law department. He eventually became general counsel in the CBS law department until he moved over as Executive Vice President of CBS Records International in 1969.

In 1968, as general counsel, Yetnikoff was instrumental together with Harvey Schein in forming CBS/Sony, a Japanese joint venture which became highly profitable under Akio Morita and Norio Ohga.[7] Yetnikoff forged a close and lucrative working partnership with Sony executives, thereby establishing a groundbreaking collaboration between a major U.S. company and Japanese corporation.

In 1971 he was appointed President of CBS Records International. [8]

CBS Records[edit]

In 1975 he became President and CEO of CBS Records.

Among his most famous accomplishments, he is credited with breaking the color barrier at MTV via Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.[9] He nurtured Michael Jackson’s solo career from Off the Wall through Thriller. At the 1984 Grammy Awards, Jackson called Yetnikoff up to the podium saying that he was “the best president of any company.”[10]

Billy Joel credits Yetnikoff with providing the necessary financial and promotional support that propelled his career to its eventual record breaking heights.[11]

Yetnikoff relentlessly pursued Paul McCartney and finally persuaded him to sign with Columbia. Under Yetnikoff, in 1982 McCartney collaborated with Stevie Wonder on the number-one hit "Ebony and Ivory", included on McCartney's Tug of War LP, and with Michael Jackson on The Girl Is Mine from Thriller. The following year, McCartney and Jackson worked on Say Say Say, McCartney's most recent US number one hit.

Yetnikoff was also involved in Streisand’s biggest selling album, Guilty with Barry Gibb.

Sony Music Entertainment[edit]

In 1988, Yetnikoff was the chief architect of the deal to sell CBS Records to The Sony Corporation based on his decades-old relationship with the corporation. This was the first time a major American music company was sold to a Japanese firm.

Autobiography[edit]

In the late 80s, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, then an editor of Doubleday, approached Yetnikoff about writing his life story.

Howling at the Moon[edit]

His autobiography Howling at the Moon, co-written with David Ritz, was eventually published in 2004. Yetnikoff recounted in the book how a Catholic priest, Monsignor Vincent E. Puma had helped him recover from his addictions to alcohol and drugs. The Jewish Yetnikoff noted that he viewed Father Puma as a mentor, saying: "It'd be easier for the Pope to convert to Islam than for me to turn Catholic, but that didn't stop me from hanging out with a priest who understood the need for redemption."[12] Entertainment Weekly praised Howling as candid and noted “few record-company heads have written autobiographies, and fewer still have penned ones as candid as Howling at the Moon . . . Yetnikoff knows what readers want.”[13]

Philanthropy[edit]

Eva’s Village[edit]

In addition to being involved with Father Puma, in Eva’s Recovery Center in Paterson, NJ, Yetnikoff volunteers in recovery centers around the New York region.

Over the years, Yetnikoff has received awards from many philanthropic organizations such as the TJ Martell Foundation and anti-defamation league of B’Nai Brith.

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1] The New York Times. 1984-01-22. The King of Records of CBS.
  2. ^ [2] The Guardian. Vodka for breakfast, secretary for lunch, signed the Stones at tea. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
  3. ^ [3] The New Yorker. Blockbuster. Retrieved on 2014-04-12
  4. ^ The Last Play at Shea (2010). October 28, 2010. New York Times.
  5. ^ Ritz, David. Howling At The Moon. 2004, Abacus Press. ISBN 0-349-11797-7.
  6. ^ Ritz, David. Howling At The Moon. 2004, Abacus Press. ISBN 0-349-11797-7.
  7. ^ [4]. Sony Global. Corporate Info. CBS/Sony Records is Established in First Round of Capital Deregulation. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
  8. ^ Billboard - Google Books. Books.google.com (1971-07-31). Retrieved on 2013-07-16.
  9. ^ [5] CNN. Michael Jackson Broke Down Racial Barriers. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
  10. ^ [6] youtube.com. 1984 Grammy Awards. 1 minute 30 seconds into video. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
  11. ^ The Last Play at Shea (documentary film). 2010.
  12. ^ Ritz, David. Howling At The Moon. 2004, Abacus Press. ISBN 0-349-11797-7.
  13. ^ [7] Entertainment Weekly. The Hit Man.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
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President of CBS Records International
1971-1975
Succeeded by
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Preceded by
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President of CBS Records
1975–1990
Succeeded by
Sony Music Entertainment