Death of a major label founder

Irwin Steinberg, whose death was reported today, founded Mercury Records in 1945 together with Irving Green in Chicago. Green’s family owned a plastic plant that supplied the vinyl for their records. Steinberg was a super salesman.

The label was soon a leader in r&b, jazz and country. Quincy Jones joined as an a&r man. A classical division, founded in 1951, was revered for the clarity of its sound.

In 1963, Mercury was sold to the Dutch firm Philips, later PolyGram, now Universal.

Irwin Steinberg served as US CEO of Polygram Records for the next 30 years. He was a quiet player in a gaudy world, mostly seen at signings (3rd right, below). He died at 94.

steinberg irwinmercury

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  • If I may add to this Mercury, while not a major player in classical music (American Columbia and RCA, as well as EMI (Angel) and DG crowded that field), was a very significant – and very busy – minor player, distinguishing itself especially in the area of engineering. Using minimalist miking and recording on film, these classical recordings still sound as extraordinary now as they did then. They covered a wide variety of repertoire that was weighted slightly toward the 20th century and not as excessively duplicated as on the bigger labels. And, while they usually didn’t have the big 5 orchestras to work with (although they did record the Chicago Symphony under Kubelik) the performance standards were consistently high.

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