Milt Okun, Music Impresario & Producer, Dead at 92

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Worked with John Denver, Peter, Paul & Mary, Laura Nyro, others

Producer and impresario Milt Okun (Photo from his Wikipedia page)

Milt Okun, a legendary producer and music business impresario who also founded the successful Cherry Lane Music Publishing Company, died Nov. 15 at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 92; the cause was kidney failure.

Okun’s career found him working with an unlikely mixture of artists running the gamut from singer-songwriter John Denver to folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary to Harry Belafonte to the opera star Placido Domingo.

Milt Okun (top right) with Peter, Paul and Mary in the 1970s

Milt Okun (top right) with Peter, Paul and Mary in the 1970s

Milton Theodore Okun was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 23, 1923, and aspired to play the piano as a youth. He became a folk music fan and performed with a folk quartet, the Skifflers, as well as recording under his own name, but discovered that making music was not to be his calling. Instead he became a music teacher and musicologist before veering into the role of record producer. His many credits in that role included recordings by the folk group the Chad Mitchell Trio to the ’70s novelty hit “Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band to singer-songwriter Laura Nyro, whose debut, More Than a New Discovery, Okun co-produced in 1966.

It was Okun who teamed Domingo with Willie Nelson on the major duet hit “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” He served as Belafonte’s conductor and as the arranger and producer for Denver (working on most of the late singer’s biggest hits, including “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Rocky Mountain High”) and Peter, Paul and Mary. Okun also worked with Odetta, Tom Paxton, Miriam Makeba, the Brothers Four and other artists in the singer-songwriter genre.

Related: Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” hit #1 in December 1969. What else was on the charts that month?

As the founder of Cherry Lane Music, Okun published thousands of songs in numerous genres, from folk to rock to hip-hop. At Cherry Lane, he also started Music Alive!, a publication that teaches music appreciation to children. He sold Cherry Lane to Sony BMG in 2010.

Okun garnered more than 75 gold and platinum records and 16 Grammy Award nominations for his work.

Listen to John Denver’s big hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” produced by Milt Okun

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