Do You Know Joel Whitburn? He Turned a Passion for Records Into Chart Research

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Joel Whitburn, whose books compiling Billboard Magazine chart data served as the definitive word on the rankings of recordings, died on June 14, 2022. His death, at his home in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, was confirmed by Paul Haney, an employee of Record Research, the publishing firm operated by Whitburn, who was 82. The cause of death was not revealed.

Whitburn’s books compiled the chart placements of music in the pop, R&B and country fields, as well as others. He also published books with a narrower focus, such as the music of a specific year, or Christmas records. According to his website, Whitburn’s company published nearly 300 books in all over a span of more than 50 years. His company was based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

A tiny section of Whitburn’s record collection

In addition to publishing his meticulously researched and compiled books, Whitburn is said to have owned one of the largest collections of recorded music in the world. According to his website, Whitburn owned a copy of every charted Billboard Hot 100 and pop single (back to 1936), every charted pop album (back to 1945), and collections of nearly every charted country, R&B, Bubbling Under The “Hot 100” and Adult Contemporary records.

Related: Our salute to the Billboard Hot 100

Part of this author’s collection of Whitburn books

Born November 29, 1939, in Wauwatosa, Wisc., Joel Carver Whitburn, according to the bio on his site, “began collecting records as a teenager in the 1950s. As his collection grew, he began to sort, categorize and file each record according to the highest position it reached on Billboard magazine’s charts. He went on to publish this information—first on individual artists’ cards, then in book form in 1970, and a business was born.”

According to the bio, Whitburn “and his team research with unmatched degree of depth and detail not only the music charts of Billboard but also those of industry trade magazines Cash Box, Radio & Records, and Music Vendor / Record World. Widely recognized as the most authoritative historian on charted music, Joel has also collaborated with Warner/Rhino Records in creating a series of 150 CD albums, plus five CD albums with Curb Records.”

Watch a documentary film about Whitburn and his music collection

Related: Musicians and other celebrities we lost in 2022

Jeff Tamarkin

4 Comments so far

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  1. 122intheshade
    #1 122intheshade 15 June, 2022, 01:01

    I remember seeing a solicitation for picture sleeves by RR in the 80s or 90s. Might have been in Goldmine. You couldn’t check those books out of the (Minneapolis) library, so I spent a lot of time between classes checking out the statistics of favorite songs. This was before the modern age of computers. Talk about a labor of love! RIP Joel.

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  2. Jeffrey Zandrowicz
    #2 Jeffrey Zandrowicz 15 June, 2022, 07:39

    love his work, have quite a few of his books

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  3. Geo.May
    #3 Geo.May 16 June, 2022, 21:31

    Joel Whitburn’s books were, and still are, my go to music Bibles. My favorites are those that cover the 50s through the 70s (all categories). Your work will always be with us Joel.

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  4. beatseeker
    #4 beatseeker 22 June, 2022, 15:10

    jeff, i’m guessing you had a lot of respect for joel, given your knowledge and passion for music. and for that i offer my sympathy… hal

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