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Charles Koppelman, Music Executive and Former Chairperson of Martha Stewart’s Company, Dies at 82

He is credited with helping launch the careers of Billy Joel, The Monkees, Tracy Chapman and more

Charles Koppelman, a legendary music executive whose career whose spanned four decades before becoming a top executive at Martha Stewart and Steve Madden’s companies, died on Friday at age 82.

The news was confirmed by his son, Brian, the showrunner of Showtime’s “Billions,” and daughter Jenny Koppelman Hutt in a social media post. While no official cause of death was given, Brian wrote, “He spent his last days surrounded by those he loved the most.”

Koppelman was one of the most dominant industry executives of the last half-century. Koppelman worked with musicians ranging from Barbra Streisand and the Lovin’ Spoonful to Prince, Billy Joel and Vanilla Ice.  He began his career as a singer but eventually became a publisher, working for Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music, with Clive Davis at CBS Records. He entered into a partnership with longtime Sony/ATV chief Martin Bandier and founded SBK Entertainment which he was sold to EMI in 1989 for $300 million.

After leaving his post at the helm of EMI in 1997, he worked with both Steve Madden and Martha Stewart before returning to the music business in 2011. Via his own C.A.K. Entertainment, he scored branding deals for the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony with Kohl’s, Nicki Minaj and Adam Levine with K-Mart.

Born in Brooklyn in 1940, Koppelman began his career with a group called the Ivy Three. He scored a hit in 1960 with the novelty song “Hey, Yogi” before being recruited as a songwriter by Kirshner. Kirshner oversaw much of what was loosely termed the Brill Building.

Finding his songwriting skills outclassed by associates like Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Ellie Greenwich, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, Koppelman eventually ran Kirshner’s Aldon Music, which eventually merged with Screen Gems/ Columbia Music and produced early hits for the Monkees among others.

He joined CBS’s music division 1971. As national director of A&R for Davis’ e formed the Entertainment Company in 1975 with Bandier, which over the years acquired catalogs including songs by Fifth Dimension, the Rascals and Brill veteran Neil Sedaka and teamed up such hit duets as Diana Ross and Lionel Richie’s “Endless Love,” and Barbra and Streisand and Donna Summer’s “No More Tears.”

He and Bandier then teamed up with financier Stephen Swid to form SBK Entertainment. It began as a publishing company and acquired CBS Songs  for $125 million, which included such songs as “Over the Rainbow” and  “New York, New York,” and oversaw licensing for the ATV Music Group. ATV oversaw the Beatles catalog and was later acquired by Michael Jackson (and merged with Sony Music).

After playing a key role in the careers of Tracy Chapman — discovered by Koppelman’s son Brian — and New Kids on the Block, SBK sold the publishing company to to Thorn EMI for $300 million in 1988, launching SBK Records as a joint venture.

The company launched in 1989 and was an almost immediate smash success with hits by Katrina and the Waves, Wilson Phillips, Technotronic and even the soundtrack album to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. The soundtrack to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze” would include Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap.”

As noted in a recent oral history published by Variety: the company was also a spawning ground for future executives, namely Glassnote Records president/founder Daniel Glass ; Republic Records cofounder Monte Lipman; Atlantic Records president of A&R Pete Ganbarg; Cornerstone and the Fader cofounders Rob Stone and Jon Cohen; veteran promotion execs Neil Lasher and Ken Lane; and Deborah Dugan, who would go on to become president of Disney Publishing, CEO of Bono and Bobby Shriver’s (RED) non-profit, and endure a brief and controversial turn as president/ CEO of the Recording Academy.

The company eventually merged with EMI, with Koppelman taking on the CEO role and bringing in Prince’s first post-Warner Bros. album “Empancipation,” although internal politics led to his departure in 1997.