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Dan grew up in Great Neck, NY. He was a bright student and a recipient of a New York State Regents Scholarship. He was also a talented athlete and musician. He started at third base for Great Neck South High School's varsity baseball team and played varsity tennis in college. He also earned money by playing the piano at restaurants and other local venues. He began to hone his entrepreneurial skills at a young age by trading coins and antiques while in junior high and high school. As a college student he set up a store in his dorm providing the usual necessities of dorm life such as toiletries and ordering LP's at substantial savings to his fellow dormmates. Dan majored in Latin American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating in 1973, he headed to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia to visit the countries he had studied. Putumayo, named after the valley of the Putumayo River in Colombia, began as a hole-in the-wall retail store in New York City in 1975. Dan filled his small shop with handcrafts and clothing collected in Latin America. The store received considerable media attention and by 1985 Dan found himself designing ethnic inspired contemporary clothing and supplying 600 other stores. Putumayo also had three successful New York stores patronized by such clients as Jane Fonda and Mia Farrow.
Switch to music
In 1991, Dan fell in love with world music when he happened upon a live concert of Kotoja, an African band lead by Babá Ben Okulolo in the San Francisco Bay area. Dan knew he had to get involved with this compelling music and put together Putumayo’s first two world music collections in 1993. That same year, Dan was joined by his long-time friend Michael Kraus, who helped him launch the label.
After selling the Putumayo stores in 1997, Dan was able to focus full-time on his goal of introducing people to other cultures through great world music. He now travels extensively and, with the support of ethnomusicologist Jacob Edgar (founder of Cumbancha) pays attention to the music scenes in Paris, Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans, Johannesburg and other music centers. The opening of Putumayo Europe, in Hilversum, Holland in 2000 enabled the company to connect with the European music and retail scene. The expansion of the label’s International division has also extended Putumayo’s presence in South America, Asia, Africa and Oceania. The company now has offices in 12 countries. Putumayo has sold more than 15 million CDs since it began, with 50 of its collections selling more than 100,000 copies each and several surpassing 300,000. Currently, more than 3500 specialty retailers in the U.S. and thousands more around the world sell Putumayo CDs.