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John H. Hammond

An American record producer, musician and music critic from the 1930s to the early 1980s.

In his service as a talent scout, Hammond became one of the most influential figures in 20th century popular music.

Hammond was instrumental in sparking or furthering numerous musical careers, including:

Benny Goodman
Charlie Christian
Billie Holiday
Count Basie
Teddy Wilson
Big Joe Turner
Pete Seeger
Babatunde Olatunji
Aretha Franklin
George Benson
Bob Dylan
Freddie Green
Leonard Cohen
Bruce Springsteen
Arthur Russell
Asha Puthli
Stevie Ray Vaughan

He is also largely responsible for the revival of delta blues artist Robert Johnson's music.

Born in New York to great wealth as the great-grandson of William Henry Vanderbilt, Hammond showed interest in music from an early age. At age four he began studying the piano, only to switch to the violin at age eight.

In his teens he began listening to black musicians in Harlem, who adopted him as a novel mascot, and in 1927 heard Bessie Smith sing at the Alhambra Theater, a performance which influenced the rest of his life.

In 1931, he funded the recording of pianist Garland Wilson, marking the beginning of a long string of artistic successes as record producer.

He set up one of the first regular live jazz programs, and wrote regularly about the racial divide.

By 19321933, through his involvement in the UK music paper Melody Maker, Hammond arranged for the faltering US Columbia label to provide recordings for the UK Columbia label, mostly using the Columbia W-265000 matrix series.

Hammond recorded Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Joe Venuti, and other jazz performers.

He played a role in organizing Benny Goodman's band, and in persuading him to hire black musicians such as Charlie Christian, Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. In 1933 he heard the seventeen-year-old Billie Holiday perform in Harlem and arranged for her recording debut, on a Benny Goodman session. Four years later, he heard the Count Basie orchestra.

Rejoining Columbia Records in the late 1950s, he signed Pete Seeger and Babatunde Olatunji to the label, and discovered Aretha Franklin, then an eighteen-year-old gospel singer. In 1961, he heard folk singer Bob Dylan playing harmonica.

Hammond retired from Columbia in 1975, but continued to scout for talent. In 1983, he brought guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan to Columbia and was credited as executive producer on his debut album.

Hammond received a Grammy Trustees Award for being credited with co-producing a Bessie Smith reissue in 1971, and in 1986 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He died in 1987 after a series of strokes.

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