Walter Yetnikoff and Sir Paul McCartney
August 11, 1933 |
Brooklyn, New York, US
|Residence||New York City|
|Alma mater||Brooklyn College
|Spouse(s)||June May (deceased), Cynthia Slamar (divorced), Lynda Kady (m. 2007 - present)|
|Children||2 sons - Michael and Daniel|
|Parent(s)||Max and Bella Yetnikoff|
Walter Yetnikoff (born August 11, 1933) is an American music industry executive who was the president of CBS Records International from 1971 to 1975 and then president and CEO of CBS Records from 1975 to 1990. He is also known for his memoir, the New York Times-acclaimed Howling at the Moon (with David Ritz; 2004).
During his career at CBS, he guided the careers of Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Earth, Wind & Fire, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Gloria Estefan, and a host of other well-known artists.
After graduating from Columbia Law School (where he attained a full scholarship after his first year and was an editor of the Columbia Law Review), he served in the United States Army in Cold War-era West Germany from 1956 to 1958. Following his discharge, he was hired by the law firm Rosenman, Colin, Kaye, Petschek and Freund, which then represented William S. Paley and CBS.
In 1962, Yetnikoff joined CBS Records as a staff attorney at the behest of general counsel Clive Davis, a former colleague from Rosenman & Colin. 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 and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney away from, respectively, Warner Bros. Records and EMI, and went on to “preside over the most profitable and prestigious stable of artists of all time.”
With Yetnikoff at the helm of CBS Records, Michael Jackson’s Thriller sold over 40 million copies, Earth, Wind & Fire's I Am and Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. each sold over 20 million and Billy Joel’s The Stranger sold in excess of 13 million. Yetnikoff also helped launched the careers of Lauper (on Portrait Records, which CBS owned), Yankovic (on Scotti Brothers Records, which CBS distributed), and Estefan.
Yetnikoff was known for being a strong artist advocate. 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. Also, when MTV first declined to air the music video to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean", Yetnikoff charged the relatively new cable channel's executives with racism and threatened to pull all of CBS' material off the station.
At CBS, Yetnikoff was the chief architect of the sale of CBS Records to Sony to create Sony Music Entertainment in January 1988.
CBS Records International
After completing a tour of duty in the U.S. Military, he joined Rosenman, Colin, Kaye, Petschek and Freund. 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. 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. 
In 1975 he became President and CEO of CBS Records.
Among his most famous accomplishments, he is credited with breaking the MTV color barrier via Michael Jackson’s "Billie Jean". 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.”
Yetnikoff was credited by Billy Joel with providing the necessary financial and promotional support that propelled his career to its eventual record breaking heights.
Under Yetnikoff's partial watch, "Weird Al" Yankovic became the highest-selling comedy artist of all time.
Gloria Estefan became the most successful crossover performer in Latin music to date under Yetnikoff's watch.
Yetnikoff relentlessly pursued Paul McCartney and finally persuaded him to gain a deal that put the ex-Beatle's North American releases on CBS, which had a pressing plant, distribution network, and office, in McCartney's native England. Under Yetnikoff, in 1982, McCartney collaborated with Stevie Wonder on the number-one hit "Ebony and Ivory", included on McCartney's Tug of War, 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 features prominently in Frederic Dannen's landmark 1990 book Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business, which chronicles Yetnikoff's many victories, as well as some of his less successful business deals, such as his costly decision to lure Paul McCartney to CBS by giving him the rights to Frank Music, the publishing company that controlled the music of leading composer Frank Loesser - a move which was later estimated to have cost the label around $9 million, and which gave McCartney sole ownership of one of the most lucrative publishing catalogues in the world. Dannen also detailed Yetnikoff's volatile temperament, his notoriously abrasive and sometimes abusive personal conduct, and his intense business battles with other labels and executives. Dannen's book particularly focusses on the 1979-1983 conflict between Yetnikoff and his deputy Dick Asher over the shady practice of using independent promotion agents to place new records on radio station playlists - a practice that deeply concerned Asher, both because of its great cost (which Asher estimated in 1980 at $10 million annually for the CBS group alone) and because he worried that the practice might be found to be corrupt, and so could threaten the operations of the entire CBS group. The conflict climaxed with Asher's controversial sacking by Yetnikoff in April 1983
In 1988, Yetnikoff was the chief architect of CBS Records' sale to the Sony Corporation based on his decades-old relationship with Sony. The sale marked the first time that a Japanese firm bought a major American music company.
Howling at the Moon
Yetnikoff's autobiography, Howling at the Moon, co-written with David Ritz, was published in 2004. He recounted in it 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: "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." Entertainment Weekly praised the book 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.”
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 B'rith.
Yetnikoff was born in Brooklyn to Bella and Max Yetnikoff. He attended P.S. 182., P.S. 149 and the prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School. He went on to graduate magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Brooklyn College in 1953 before attending Columbia Law School.
He, his wife Lynda and their dog Alexandra currently reside in New York City and upstate New York.
-  The New York Times. 1984-01-22. The King of Records of CBS.
-  The Guardian. Vodka for breakfast, secretary for lunch, signed the Stones at tea. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
-  The New Yorker. Blockbuster. Retrieved on 2014-04-12
- The Last Play at Shea (2010). October 28, 2010. New York Times.
- "Michael Jackson, "Billie Jean:". blender.com. Archived from the original on March 12, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-11.
- Ritz, David. Howling At The Moon. 2004, Abacus Press. ISBN 0-349-11797-7.
- . Sony Global. Corporate Info. CBS/Sony Records is Established in First Round of Capital Deregulation. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
- Billboard - Google Books. Books.google.com (1971-07-31). Retrieved on 2013-07-16.
-  CNN. Michael Jackson Broke Down Racial Barriers. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
-  youtube.com. 1984 Grammy Awards. 1 minute 30 seconds into video. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
- The Last Play at Shea (documentary film). 2010.
- Dannen, Frederic, Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside The Music Business, Vintage Books, 1991 (ISBN 0099813106)
- Ritz, David. Howling At The Moon. 2004, Abacus Press. ISBN 0-349-11797-7.
-  Entertainment Weekly. The Hit Man.
- "Sex, Drugs and Ego: A Music Mogul's Swath of Destruction; A Deposed President of CBS Records Chronicles His Debauchery and Detox", The New York Times, March 4, 2004 (retrieved January 28, 2010)
|President of CBS Records International
|President of CBS Records
Sony Music Entertainment