Mike Hennessey, Trailblazing Billboard Editor and Jazz Booster, Dead at 89

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Tom Henley
Mike Hennessey, John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Mike Hennessey, one of the great personalities of the global music market and a longtime editor at Billboard, died last Wednesday in Durchhausen (Baden-Württemberg), Germany at the age of 89. He died following a brief illness in the presence of his immediate family in Durchhausen near Stuttgart, relatives announced today. 

Hennessey was an internationally celebrated pianist for well-known jazz ensembles. He wrote many biographies about famous jazz musicians such as Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin and Ronnie Scott, helping countless global pop stars to establish their careers as he had worked as international editor and correspondent at Billboard for 27 years. When he retired from the magazine in early January 1994, then-international editor in chief Adam White said, "Our global coverage of the entertainment business today owes a great deal to his groundwork."

He had lived in the idyllic countryside of Durchhausen with his wife, the famous concert agent, Gaby Kleinschmidt, since 1989. Up until his death, he played piano and composed and was repeatedly able to give well-known jazz compositions his own unique style. With a real sense of humor, he came to appreciate and love Durchhausen, giving concerts in the vicinity to please his neighbors and friends.

Born in London in 1928, he became a legendary jazz specialist who made a name for himself with his many contacts to the rock and pop scene as well as iconic bands such as the Beatles, whose press spokesman he became for a number of years. With his love of and dedication to jazz, he was also able to achieve greater popularity and recognition for many jazz stars.

However, there is one thing that he never achieved in his long and varied life, he once admitted with a twinkle in his eyes: "I have never learned German properly because everyone made it too easy for me in Germany by speaking English to me. But I haven’t given up trying."

Hennessey found happiness in Durchhausen. “Since I met Gaby at a jazz congress in New York 30 years ago and then moved to wonderful Durchhausen after retiring from Billboard in New York, I have found great joy in playing the piano and visiting the most world’s most important jazz festivals.”