The music world lost a legend on Tuesday, when Hy Weiss passed away at age 84 of natural causes. In his day he was one of the industry’s most powerful players; his famed business acumen was instrumental to the rise of doo-wop music in the ’50s and early ’60s.
Weiss moved to the Bronx, NY, with his family shortly after being born in Romania in 1923. By the time he reached adulthood, his adoptive home was buzzing with a new genre that combined smooth barbershop harmonies with hip, danceable rhythms. In 1953, Hy and his brother Sam founded an independent label, Old Town Records, to bring the doo-wop tunes they heard ringing out from every Bronx street corner to the world.
Over the next decade, Old Town would release a string of certified classics including Robert & Johnny’s “We Belong Together” (1958), The Capris’ “There’s A Moon Out Tonight” (1961), The Earls’ “Remember Then” (1963), and many more. When doo-wop eventually gave way to newer sounds, Weiss went on to work with suave balladeer Arthur Prysock and Memphis’ Stax Records. Thanks to Weiss’ sharp licensing deals, though, those early hits are the ones that have lived on: If you’ve ever watched a movie set in the Eisenhower years or surfed through an FM oldies station, you’ve heard at least a few songs that Hy Weiss had a hand in.
Weiss is survived by four grandchildren and three children, including Zomba Label Group chief Barry Weiss — who carries on his father’s legacy by releasing albums from diverse acts including Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Ciara, R. Kelly, and Clipse. Said Barry Weiss in a statement released yesterday: “Beyond the typical reasons why I am proud to be my father’s son, I am proud in a business sense to be the son of one of our industry’s great original independent record men and entrepreneurs.”