Tony Martell, Longtime Label Exec, Dead at 90

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Berry Gordy with Tony Martell at a 2012 event (Photo via the TJ Martell Foundation Facebook page)

Berry Gordy with Tony Martell at a 2012 event (Photo via the TJ Martell Foundation Facebook page)

Chances are that you never heard of Tony Martell, a longtime music industry executive who died Sunday, November 27 at age 90. Martell founded the T.J. Martell Foundation for leukemia, cancer and AIDs research in honor of his son T.J. who died after battling leukemia at the age of 19. Tony Martell died at his home in Madison, New Jersey.

In Martell’s own words, he explains the personal, painful driving force for starting the Foundation: “In 1973, my son, T.J. Martell, was a high school student battling leukemia. He asked me to raise a million dollars for cancer research so that ‘no one else will have to experience what I am going through.’ Although I had no fundraising experience, I agreed.

Two years later, T.J. died at the age of nineteen, and that put my promise in cement. Soon after, I was joined by many of my friends in the music industry like Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington to hold a fundraiser at Buddy Rich’s nightclub in New York. We raised $50,000 and the T.J. Martell Foundation was born.”

Tony Martell worked primarily for CBS Records from the 1960s to the 1990s working with musicians who covered a wide range of musical styles including jazz, rock, soul, pop, blues and heavy metal. (CBS Records was sold to Sony Corporation in 1987 which renamed it Sony Music.)

As the senior exec for Epic/Portrait/Associated Labels, Martell was involved with the careers of such classic rock legends as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ozzy Osbourne, Electric Light Orchestra and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. E/P/A-distributed label Philadelphia International provided a roster that included such soul legends as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and the O’Jays.

Martell’s most profound achievement, though, was his commitment to honoring the promise he made to his son many years ago – to find a cure to help others. Founded in 1975, the T.J. Martell Foundation has raised over $270 million dollars for innovative scientific research at flagship hospitals in the U.S. Under Martell’s leadership the foundation has become the music industry’s largest foundation which funds innovative research focused on finding cures for leukemia, cancer and AIDs.

When a longtime Epic Records executive heard the news of Martell’s passing, he wrote: “One of the greats-the ultimate mensch!!”

Related: 2016 in Review… music greats that passed this year

Over the years, the Foundation’s major annual fundraiser, theLifetime Music Industry Achievement Award, honored such giants as Berry Gordy, Quincy Jones, Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, Clive Davis and even former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Martell’s wife, Vicky, passed in February of this year. He is survived by his daughter Debbie Martell.

Best Classic Bands Staff

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