Label vet guided careers of Cochran, Vee.

Simon "Si" Waronker, founder of Liberty Records, one of the top indie labels of the 1950s and early 1960s, died in his sleep Tuesday (June 7) in Los Angeles. He was 90.

Waronker was born in 1915 in Los Angeles. He was a child prodigy on violin, and studied in Philadelphia and France. He attempted to establish a music career in Germany, but fled the country after the rise of the Nazis. From 1939-55, he worked at 20th Century Fox, playing on countless scores for the studio.

He founded Liberty in 1955. The company's initial single was "The Girl Upstairs," a side by Lionel Newman, a longtime power in the Fox music department; the label's early releases focused on film and orchestral music.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Liberty's first big hit was by an actress, Julie London, whose "Cry Me a River" led to a run of popular albums on the label. The company's diverse roster included Ross Bagdasarian's novelty act the Chipmunks, the young Henry Mancini, R&B veterans the Dominoes and exotica bandleader Martin Denny. In 1957 Liberty acquired Dick Bock's label Pacific Jazz.

During the rock 'n' roll era, Liberty was the home of singer-guitarist-producer Eddie Cochran, teen idol Bobby Vee, rocker-turned-pop vocalist Johnny Burnette and surf duo Jan & Dean.

In ill health, Waronker sold Liberty in 1963 to electronics company Avnet for $12 million. Ownership of the label subsequently changed hands several times, and its catalog is now controlled by EMI Music.

Waronker's son Lenny is the former head of Warner Bros. Records and DreamWorks Records. Granddaughter Anna Waronker is a former member of the group that dog and co-founder of the indie label Five Foot Two Records. Grandson Steve Berman is head of sales & marketing at Universal's Interscope/Geffen/A&M unit.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

Print